Abbas vents frustration at Obama peace-making efforts
In Newsweek interview, the Palestinian President reveals personal insights into his expectations of how Barack Obama would perform in office once he became U.S. president.
WASHINGTON - The frustration of the Palestinian leadership with the American leadership is nothing new, but in a report on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Newsweek, the issue turns up close and personal. In the interview, the Palestinian leader presents details of his talks with President Barack Obama. "We knew him before he became president," Abbas says, adding that he was very receptive to the Palestinians.
On the issue of settlement freeze and his insistence that this be a precondition to the continuation of direct negotiations with Israel, Abbas says: "It was Obama who suggested a full settlement freeze. I said O.K., I accept. We both went up the tree. After that, he came down with a ladder, and he removed the ladder and said to me, 'jump.' Three times, he did it."
As for the special U.S. Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, who has not visited the area often since November, Abbas says that Mitchell did not do what he was expected of him. "Every visit by Mitchell, we talked to him and gave him some ideas. At the end, we discovered that he didn't convey any of these ideas to the Israelis. What does it mean?"
However, according to Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for the U.S. National Security Council, the claim was not correct. "Of course, he carried both parties' ideas to each other all the time," Vietor said.
Vietor also contradicted Abbas' version of a conversation he held with Obama on February 17, during which the Palestinian leader claims he was pressured by senior administration figures to persuade him to act against a draft U.N. Security Council resolution demanding that Israel "immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory."
The Palestinians maintain that the language in the draft did not contradict what the Americans supported publicly. However, first Obama and then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and other senior officials, pressured Abbas and his aides, says Abbas. So for 55 minutes on the phone, Obama first reasoned with and then pressured Abbas to withdraw the resolution. "He said it's better for you and for us and for our relations," says Abbas. Then the American president politely made what Abbas describes as a "list of sanctions" Palestinians would endure if the vote went ahead. Among other things, he warned that Congress would not approve the $475 million in aid the U.S. gives the Palestinians.
Abbas says that they did not expect the U.S. "will abstain" during the vote. "But when they said, 'Who will be against?' my friend Susan [U.S. UN ambassador, Susan Rice] raises her hand."
The White House says that Abbas has presented the facts selectively, that the conversations were shorter, and that Obama did not present Abbas with sanctions.
"It's simply not accurate to claim that he threatened President Abbas," Vietor said. "President Obama made the same case privately that we make publicly - that this effort does not help the Palestinians, Israelis or the cause of peace."
Abbas also says in the interview that he was critical of the treatment ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak received from the Obama administration. "From day one, when it started with Mubarak, I had a telephone call with Madame Clinton. I told her, 'Do you know what are the consequences? Either chaos, or the Muslim Brotherhood or both,'" he says. "Now they have both."