Obama’s West Bank trip raises hope, skepticism

Obama’s West Bank trip raises hope, skepticism

Posted: Wednesday, July 23, 2008 9:01 pm
By: AP

By KARIN LAUB Associated Press Writer RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — Barack Obama’s trip to the West Bank today appeared to generate some goodwill among Palestinians, though deep skepticism about U.S. policy remains. Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee, met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas today for an hour under heavy security at Abbas’ West Bank government headquarters. Like people elsewhere in the region, Palestinians are fascinated with the U.S. presidential campaign. The success of a black candidate may also have helped improve the tarnished U.S. image in the eyes of some. Wael Hamad, a 35-year-old mechanic from Ramallah, said he expected Obama to be more understanding of Palestinian suffering because of the hardships suffered by blacks in the United States. One Ramallah baker even said he’s named a bagel after Obama, to thank him for not ignoring the Palestinians. But most Palestinians believe the U.S. is so irrevocably biased toward Israel that it will make little difference whether the next president is Democrat Obama or Republican John McCain, said pollster Jamil Rabbah. He offered no poll in support of that view. “The American interest has always been with Israel, not with us,” said Mohammed Hatem, a 22-year-old college student. “We have seen a lot of (U.S.) leaders who say they are going to work to get the Palestinian people an independent state, and they end up serving Israel.” Obama deepened those fears in a speech to American Jewish leaders in June when he said Jerusalem must remain Israel’s undivided capital — even though no U.S. government has recognized Israel’s 1967 annexation of east Jerusalem, the sector claimed by the Palestinians as their future capital. Obama later clarified that he believes the future of Jerusalem is to be determined in negotiations — Washington’s long-standing policy. The fate of the city is currently on the table in U.S.-backed Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Palestinian officials said they didn’t bring up the Jerusalem remarks in their meeting with Obama today. But Kadoura Fares, a legislator in Abbas’ Faith movement, said Obama’s slip-up on such a key issue caused serious damage. “His correction was not enough,” Fares added. “He should have said he recognizes the Palestinian right to freedom.” The Islamic militant Hamas group, which rules the Gaza Strip, said Obama was not welcome and criticized Abbas, a bitter rival, for receiving him. “Obama wants to go to the White House through Tel Aviv, at the expense of the Palestinians,” said Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman. Abdullah Abdullah, a former Palestinian deputy foreign minister, said he thinks Obama’s visit to Ramallah is a positive sign. “It means that if elected president, the Mideast file will be on his (Obama’s) desk from Day One,” Abdullah said. Abbas listed Palestinian grievances, including Israel’s continued settlement construction and refusal to ease restrictions on the movement of Palestinians in the West Bank, said Abbas aide Saeb Erekat. Obama, meanwhile, assured Abbas that he would quickly become engaged in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and not waste time, Erekat told reporters after the meeting. Abbas will also tell Obama that, if elected president, he must immediately turn his attention to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, said Saeb Erekat, an Abbas adviser. Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are trying to reach a peace deal by the end of President Bush’s term. However, both sides have said the deadline will not be met. In this case, immediate involvement by the next president would be crucial to preserve what has already been achieved, the Palestinians plan to tell Obama. ——— Associated Press writer Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah contributed to this report. Published in The Messenger 7.23.08

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