Palestinians urge Romney to take balanced approach to Middle East conflict

Palestinian envoy to Washington welcomes the Republican nominee’s commitment to a two-state solution; new information on the Benghazi embassy attack may come as bad news for Obama.

     

Sesame Street’s Big Bird may have been surprised this week to get a front seat in the U.S. presidential campaigns – but the Palestinians were no less surprised by the Republican candidate’s promise on Monday “to recommit America to the goal of a democratic, prosperous Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with the Jewish state of Israel.”

Even former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was surprised by the comments, scoffing at their timing and adding that Romney’s sudden outreach to the Palestinians came after “insulting them on his trip to Jerusalem.”

Still, PLO Executive Committee member Dr. Hanan Ashrawi expressed skepticism about the shift in the Republican candidate’s position. The PLO mission to the U.S. initially declined to comment on the issue, but later, the head of the mission, Maen Rashid Erekat, told Haaretz that “it is good that Governor Romney is adhering to the long-standing U.S. position on the necessity of establishing a Palestinian state. After all, former President George W. Bush was the first U.S. president to call explicitly for establishing a Palestinian state living side-by-side with Israel.”

However, he added that “it is not enough to seek a democratic Palestinian state, because what we need is a fully sovereign viable state with full control over its people, territory and natural resources. It would be good also to hear Governor Romney say that he will take a balanced approach to the conflict by listening to the Palestinian side and consider their concerns.”

The mission’s representative confirmed that the Palestinian envoy has not been approached by Romney campaign representatives or by the candidate himself (as opposed to the Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren, who gave briefings to both campaigns.)

It should be noted that this is not the first time Romney has openly expressed support for a two-state solution. He did so in a July interview with Haaretz’s Ari Shavit.

Yet with some politicians – including Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – questions about their “real positions” have never really  disappeared. As for Romney’s critics, the candidate who was secretly filmed speaking at a May Florida fundraiser offering to “kick the ball down the field” on the Palestinian-Israeli issue – because the Palestinians were not interested in reaching an agreement with Israel – seemed more real than the “new Romney,” whose foreign policy positions are not all that different than President Barack Obama’s. No “red line” on Iran was mentioned in the speech, and the message regarding the Arab spring was as confusing as the current administration’s: Obama didn’t support the young democracies decisively enough, Romney claimed, but he – Romney – promised to condition the foreign aid to Egypt.

Palestinians and Israelis in Washington can agree on one thing: Both sides heard a lot of campaign promises (some could perhaps be interpreted as threats), but the actual policy while in office is what really counts. And the actual policy might not be that different after the elections.

Meanwhile, it seems that Israel, and even the Iranian issue, are being overshadowed by new details that have emerged over the fatal attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in which the U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other staffers were killed.

At Wednesday’s Congressional hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, titled “The Security Failures of Benghazi,” some testimonies by U.S. officials and former security personnel were revealed, saying that security wasn’t tight enough leading up to the attack; in Tuesday’s briefing to reporters, State Department officials contradicted the initial version that emerged after the incident, which held that protests in front of the compound led to the attack.

Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa said that “the State Department began the process of coming clean about what occurred in Benghazi. Contrary to early assertions by the administration, let’s understand: There was no protest, and cameras reveal that, and the State Department, the FBI and others have that video.”

The Republican lawmakers said all they want is accountability and transparency, but clearly the timing of the hearing might have an impact on the upcoming elections, undermining President Obama’s foreign policy.

                                                       NATASHA  MOZGOVAYA- HAARETZ

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