Snap Fact #251
President Obama Continues to Work for a Just and Sustainable Israeli-Palestinian Peace! 
Since the onset of his term, President Obama has used his auspices to promote a just and sustainable peace settlement between Israel and its Palestinian neighbors. This is indeed a formidable challenge, if not a seemingly impossible one, it has eluded so many before him. However, our President continues his efforts undaunted, despite all the complexities of the situation and the entrenched disagreements from both sides. 

Recently, there has been support for resumed peace talks. U.S.-brokered peace talks collapsed in 2010 after Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu refused to extend a partial moratorium on construction in West Bank settlements. 

The so-called Quartet, comprised of the U.S., the U.N., the European Union, and Russia, called on Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) to resume peace negotiations. This followed the failure of the PA to obtain U.N. membership in September 2011, when President Abbas presented an application for membership to the U.N. Secretary-General. In October 2011, Netanyahu’s office indicated that Israel welcomed the Quartet’s call for direct negotiations without preconditions and called on the PA to do the same without delay. In April of 2012, a meeting was held with a Palestinian delegation in Jerusalem at which time a letter from Abbas was delivered to Netanyahu. After the meeting, a joint statement indicated both sides hope that the exchange of letters will help find a way to advance peace. This was a small crack in a door that had been closed tight for 2 years. 

The Quartet also held a meeting in April 2012 after which they noted with concern the increasing fragility of developments on the ground and called on the parties to work together constructively to take concrete steps to address the PA’s fiscal challenges, preserve and build on the PA’s institutional gains, and expand economic opportunities for the Palestinian people. It should be noted that the two-state solution espoused by both the Bush and Obama Administrations requires a viable PA to live amicably with its Israeli neighbor. 

The PA’s decision to ask the U.N. for statehood recognition, without making a peace agreement with Israel, was opposed by both Israel and the U.S. The incident provoked some Republican members of Congress to put a hold on a $192 million aid commitment package to the Palestinians. Subsequently, Congress released about $134 million of that package with the help of Netanyahu’s intervention. He urged members of Congress visiting Israel not to object to the aid because the money would be used for training Palestinian police officers who work closely with the Israeli government. In April 2012, Obama overrode the balance of the hold and released the remaining $58.4 million of the package stating that the aid was important to the security interests of the U.S. 


In overriding the hold, a State Department official stated “the funds deliver critical support to the Palestinian people and those leaders seeking to combat extremism within their society and build a more stable future. Without funding, our programs risk cancellation. Such an occurrence would undermine the progress that has been made in recent years in building Palestinian institutions and improving stability, security, and economic prospects, which benefits both Israelis and Palestinians alike.” 

The $192 million package was part of our FY2011 Economic Support Fund (ESF) that was appropriated by Congress. The U.S. has committed over $4 billion in bilateral assistance to the Palestinians since the establishment of limited Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1993. Since FY2008, this assistance has averaged about $600 million annually. Successive Administrations have requested the aid to support the following U.S. policy priorities: 

• Combating, neutralizing, and preventing terrorism against Israel from Hamas and other militant organizations. 

• Creating a cycle of stability and prosperity that inclines Palestinians toward peaceful coexistence with Israel and prepares them for self-governance. 

• Meeting humanitarian needs and preventing further destabilization. 

Although one may think that the holds on already appropriated $192 million FY2011 ESF funds might be justifiable, those holds were not consistent with the Administration’s policy to maintain the PA as a viable entity for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem. Similarly, the contentious comments concerning Obama’s $400 million civilian aid package to the PA in June 2010 failed to comprehend the same necessity. That funding was intended to ameliorate the effects of the blockaded Gaza Strip on the civilian population. 

The $400 million aid was directed at increasing access to schools, clean drinking water, and housing as well as creating jobs for Palestinians. President Obama called the situation in the blockaded Gaza Strip “unsustainable” and called on both the Israelis and Palestinians to work together to improve the situation there. The aid was subsequent to the attempt by a Turkish-based flotilla to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza, an attempt that ended in disaster.  Obama refrained from calling for an end to the blockade citing Israel’s concern that weapons might get into the hands of terrorists. He indicated the importance of making sure that Israel’s security needs are met and that the needs of the people in Gaza are also met. His final point at that time was “that in the long run, the only real way to solve this problem is to make sure that we’ve got a Palestinian state side-by-side with an Israel that is secure.”