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Palestinians not optimistic about Obama

People agree that the US will not be an honest broker

Gulf News

Gaza/Ramallah: The different groups in control of Gaza and the West Bank differ in optimism on the re-election of Barack Obama, but the Palestinian people on the ground are largely consistent in their view that the American president will not help them end Israel’s occupation.

Dr. Yahya Rabah, a senior officer in Fatah, which rules the West Bank, was optimistic about Obama’s re-election saying that Obama had been “released from the political constraints the Israel lobby put on him”.

“I believe that Obama’s re-election is better than Romney for the Palestinians since we already know his views. Plus, the president Mahmoud Abbas had discussed with Obama all the details such as settlements and refugees”.

The various resistance groups in Gaza who have refused to make peace with Israel are however not as optimistic.

Despite being a large contributor to Palestinian Authority budget and a major donor to development projects in Palestine, the president remains unpopular in the Gaza Strip because of his strong support for Israel. This has been particularly highlighted by Palestinian factions fighting Israel’s occupation.

Sami Abu Zuhri, the spokesman for Hamas said he hoped that Obama would change the US’s foreign policy. “The people in the Arab and Islamic nations are different than they were before and president Obama must take that into consideration,” he said in an apparent reference to the Arab Spring events.

“Nothing will change in Obama’s second term. In fact, I don’t think he will make any positive changes regarding the Palestinian people since his administration is supporting Israel with money and weapons against the Palestinians and Arabs,” said Khaled Al Batsh, a senior leader in Islamic Jihad.

Kayed Al Ghol, a senior leader in the Popular Front for Liberation Palestine (PLFP), cited the influence of the Israel lobby in the United States as the biggest hurdle to change in America’s Middle East policy. “The American policy toward Palestine won’t change even if the president himself changed since it’s has already been drawn by the Zionist lobby and is going according to the Israeli interests,” he said.

Four years ago, many Palestinians were excited and optimistic regarding the election of Obama. They saw him as a young and fresh face with an atypical background. For them, his election represented a new era in American foreign policy, particularly following his 2009 speech to the Muslim world in Cairo, as well as the perceived cold he gave to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israel lobby in Washington.

But since then, and particularly after the US’ refusal to support the Palestinian bid for statehood at the United Nations, Palestinians appear to have lost hope.

According to political commentator Talal Okal Obama was better for the Palestinians than Romney, “but he wont be able to make any strategic changes like ending the Palestinian-Israeli conflict or allowing the Palestinian authority to be a member in the United Nations, even as an observer”.

West Bank Palestinians largely believe that Obama will not be harder on Israel and that the US Administration will never become a fair broker between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Some however point to the fact that Obama has not visited Israel as president as a small sign that he is the better choice for the Palestinians.

“Obama had already spent four years in the White House and he had done nothing in favour of the Palestinians,” he said. “This is the reality we must acknowledge,” said Anis Swailem, a businessman. “He and any other US President will not and can not be fair as the US Middle East policy is directed by Israel alone,” he said.

Eyad Wahdan, who owns a quarry, said that Obama’s second term would be worse for the Palestinians. “Now Obama is expected to pay back to the Israeli lobby which helped and supported him during his latest campaign and re-election,” he said.