On the same Barack Obama made his first visit to the West Bank as President, militants in Gaza fired rockets into southern Israel, underlining the divisions still faced between not just Israelis and Palestinian, but within the two factions.
Four Kassam rockets were launched toward the town of Sderot on Thursday morning, breaking several weeks of calm for the town that sits just a few short miles from the Gaza border. No one was injured, but the mayor of the town declared that it was deliberately timed to the President's visit to the West Bank today, "as a message from terror groups to Obama." Just one day earlier, Obama had even mentioned Sderot by name when discussing Israeli security during a news conference.
Because the West Bank and Gaza are separated by the expanse (and security fences) of Israel, they have taken very different paths of development in recent years. Gaza is ruled by Hamas, which takes a much more militant approach with the Israelis, frequently firing rockets over the border and sparking regular conflicts with the Israeli army, like last year's mini-war which was started after Hamas stepped up the heavy use of those rockets.
The West Bank is ruled by the Fatah party and its President Mahmoud Abbas, who has taken the more diplomatic (though not always friendly) approach with the Israelis and the United States. Judging by the fact that Obama went to the West Bank on this trip, and nowhere near Gaza, you can decide which approach is more effective.
Obama was even explicit about the differences between the two territories, stating today that the relative peace and stability in West Bank under Abbas was a stark contrast to the "misery" of Palestians living under Hamas. Not that the freiendly relationship has led to much progress on the larger issues of peace talks between the two sides, of course.
At a joint press conference with Abbas after the two met, Obama reiterated most of his old talking points: He's committed to the "two-state solution"; the Israeli settlements being built in the territories are "not productive"; the "status quo" needs to change; etc. Obama said more than once that "the possibility exists for a two state solution," but only if the Palestinians and Israelis talk to each other directly. "If both sides can make that leap together" then "the world and the region would cheer." Unfortunately, like everyone else, he still hasn't figured out how to make that happen and didn't seem willing to push very hard for it right now.
If Hamas still thinks it has a better approach to the problem than Abbas does—and judging by today's rocket launches, it does—a reconciliation still feels light-years away.
(Top photo by Reuters, from a smoke trail headed toward toward the southern Israeli city of Sderot in November. Inset photos via AP.)