U.S., Palestinian Relations: Honeymoon Over?

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JERUSALEM, Israel - Since taking up residence in the Oval Office a little over two years ago, President Barack Obama has put extraordinary effort into currying favor in the Arab and Muslim world.

In his June 2009 speech in Cairo, Obama called for a "new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world…based on mutual interest and mutual respect."

But the president's efforts with the Palestinian Authority appear to be backfiring after its veto last week of a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israeli "settlements" as illegal.

P.A. Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said he found the U.S. position "offensive."

"The Americans have chosen to be alone in disrupting the internationally backed Palestinian efforts," Fayyad said. "We are not willing to compromise our national enterprise for a fistful of dollars, however big or small."

Before Friday's U.N. session, Obama offered the P.A. a package of diplomatic incentives meant to pressure Israel and convince the P.A. not to solicit the U.N. Security Council vote.

The P.A. rejected the incentives, choosing to press ahead with the petition, effectively forcing the U.S. to exercise its veto and triggering a flood of anti-American and anti-Israel backlash.

Fourteen countries voted in favor of the resolution that labeled all Jewish towns and cities outside the 1949 armistice lines illegal. The U.S. vetoed the vote, choosing instead to call them "illegitimate."

P.A. and Fatah officials responded by calling for a "day of rage" on Friday against the U.S. and Obama, where Palestinians could vent their anti-American sentiments. Fayyad also called on Hamas to throw down the gauntlet and join a P.A. unity government.

Veto Creates Common Ground

The veto had indeed created common ground between the two rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah. Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum called it "an oppressive decision that disgraces the rights of the Palestinian people and reveals the truth about U.S. support for all of the crimes the Zionist enemy [Israel] commits in its service."

Meanwhile on Thursday, Hamas claimed responsibility, along with Islamic Jihad, for two long-range Grad Katyusha rockets that damaged homes and vehicles in a residential neighborhood in Beer Sheva and caused four people, including two children, to be treated for shock.

But despite the reality on the ground, U.N. coordinator Robert Serry told reporters in New York on Thursday that the Quartet - U.S., E.U., U.N. and Russia - are pressing ahead with plans to bring a negotiated settlement between Israel and the Palestinians by Obama's target date of Sept. 2011.

Serry said Quartet envoys would like to hold separate meetings with the two parties next week in Brussels to discuss "core issues," including permanent borders, security issues, so-called Palestinian refugees and the status of Jerusalem.

"We want to hold the parties to their commitment to reach an agreement by September," Serry said, because "the two-state solution is not a solution that is going to be there forever."

Should the rising anti-Obama sentiment bring about a Fatah-Hamas unity government, a negotiated settlement between Israel and the Palestinians would likely be postponed indefinitely.

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