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Israel rejects Obama peace plan, Palestinians cagey

Arab-Israeli conflict influenced by Arab Spring: envoy
United Nations (AFP) May 19, 2011 - The Arab-Israeli conflict is not immune from the political changes sweeping the Middle East, but such changes could be used to positive effect, the UN special coordinator for the peace process told the Security Council on Thursday. Two events have shown the power of those changes, envoy Robert Serry said: the late-April reconciliation between political rivals Fatah and Hamas, and the Palestinian demonstrations May 15 marking the uprooting of the Palestinians which accompanied the founding of the state of Israel in 1948. It was the largest Palestinian demonstration in years, Serry told a Security Council meeting on the Middle East. "Both developments remind us that popular protest and political change continue to sweep the Arab world -- the Arab-Israeli conflict will not be immune to these dramatic developments," he said. "One way or another, change will come to it too. These changes must be shaped to positive ends," he added.

Serry noted how both sides "profess their desire to negotiate a two-state solution. However, deep differences over the stalemated peace process remain," he said. "There is a genuine lack of trust and of credible initiative that has taken place that could overcome the impasse," he said. Serry noted that the Middle East Quartet of the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and United States had as its goal the recognition of a Palestinian state in September, and that the Palestinians hoped to obtain a seat in the General Assembly as well. Serry also called for the rapid formation of a government in Lebanon. "We continue to believe that a government supported by all is critical to enable the country to face important challenges in the political, economic, social and security spheres," he said.

Hamas wants 'concrete steps' not 'slogans' from US
Gaza City, Palestinian Territories (AFP) May 19, 2011 - President Barack Obama must take "concrete steps" not issue "slogans," the Hamas movement said on Thursday after the US leader delivered a Middle East policy speech. "What Obama needs to do is not to add slogans but to take concrete steps to protect the rights of the Palestinian people and the Arab nation," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told AFP. Speaking at the US State Department, Obama said he remained committed to seeking a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, despite the fact talks between the two sides have been on hold since September 2010. Obama called for a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders but said a Palestinian bid for UN recognition of a unilateral declaration of statehood would not work.
by Staff Writers
Jerusalem (AFP) May 19, 2011
Israel on Thursday rejected President Barack Obama's call for a peace deal based the 1967 borders, as the Palestinians said their leadership would hold a meeting to discuss the US leader's policy speech.

Obama's address, billed as an announcement of reoriented US policy in the Middle East after a slew of regional uprisings, focused heavily on the stalled talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

He called for a negotiated solution based on the borders that existed before the 1967 Six Day War, but also warned the Palestinians that a bid for UN recognition of a unilateral proclamation of statehood would not work.

"The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states," said Obama.

"The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their full potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, due to fly to Washington just hours after Obama's speech, immediately called on the White House to guarantee Israel would not have to withdraw to the 1967 lines.

He urged Obama to commit to the assurances laid out in 2004 by then president George W. Bush, who said "new realities on the ground," meant a "full and complete return" to the 1967 borders was "unrealistic."

"Prime Minister Netanyahu expects to hear a reaffirmation from President Obama of US commitments made to Israel in 2004, which were overwhelmingly supported by both houses of Congress," Netanyahu's statement said.

"Among other things, those commitments relate to Israel not having to withdraw to the 1967 lines, which are both indefensible and which would leave major Israeli population centres in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) beyond those lines," it added.

Netanyahu is scheduled to meet with Obama on Friday and will address a joint session of the US Congress next week.

In the West Bank, the Palestinian leadership responded cautiously, saying it would examine Obama's address before making substantive comment.

"President (Mahmud) Abbas decided to call the Palestinian leadership to an urgent meeting as soon as possible and consult with the Arab brothers to discuss US President Barack Obama's speech," senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told reporters.

He said the Palestinians remained committed to all previous agreements with Israel, "hoping that the Israeli government will do the same, to give the peace process the chance it deserves."

The Hamas movement, which rules the Gaza Strip and this month signed a surprise unity agreement with Abbas's Fatah party, immediately called for Washington to match words with action.

"What Obama needs to do is not to add slogans but to take concrete steps to protect the rights of the Palestinian people and the Arab nation," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told AFP.

Obama's speech comes as talks between Israel and the Palestinians are mired in a stalemate over the issue of Israeli settlement construction.

In September 2010, Obama helped launch the first direct talks between the two sides in nearly two years, but they quickly ground to a halt when a partial Israeli settlement moratorium expired.

Netanyahu refused to renew the ban, and the Palestinians have refused to negotiate while Israel builds on land they want for a future state.

As Obama's speech began, an Israeli government committee announced approval for only 1,500 new homes in a settlement neighbourhood in annexed east Jerusalem, a non-governmental group told AFP.

The decision authorised construction of 620 homes in the settlement neighbourhood of Pisgat Zeev, and another 900 in a second settlement neighbourhood, Har Homa, said the Ir Amim organisation, which calls for Palestinians and Israelis to share Jerusalem.

Israeli lobby group Peace Now deplored the timing and content of the interior ministry's decision.

"The prime minister is sacrificing relations with the US for the sake of his loyalty to settlers," it said in a statement. "This is not just miserable timing but a miserable policy which endangers Israel's standing in the world."

"Netanyahu's decision to discuss Har Homa and Pisgat Zeev today is a clear message to the Americans about Israel's real policy which refuses to even discuss (sharing) Jerusalem," Hagit Ofran, of Peace Now's Settlement Watch unit, told AFP.

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