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Obama Presidency:

Palestinians Disillusioned

By Khalid Amayreh, January 11, 2010


Soon after his inauguration as the 44th President of the United States nearly a year ago, Barack Obama promised to devote more attention to the enduring Palestinian cause.

He even pressed for a total freeze of Jewish settlement expansion, upsetting some of Israel’s staunchest allies and supporters in America.

Obama’s words, including his landmark speech to the Muslim world from Cairo in June, revived hopes for peace in a region long tormented by war and violence.

But a year later, there is a general state of exasperation, indignation and disenchantment among Palestinians that the Obama administration has failed to honor its undertakings.

"I think that in a certain sense we should thank the Obama administration for freeing us from the illusion that the US is capable of adopting an equitable approach toward the Palestinian cause," Hazem Kawasmi, a prominent economist and community activist, told

Asked if he thought that Obama can still be given the benefit of the doubt given the fact that he still has three more years to try to make a difference, Kawasmi believes "it would be politically stupid to wait until Obama’s last days in the White House to pass a judgment on his administration."

Obama has personally and repeatedly called for a total freeze of settlement construction to help re-launch the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

Hawkish Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu only agreed to a nine-month freeze that does not include Al-Quds.

Eventually, the Obama administration caved in and abandoned its earlier stance on liking the total settlement freeze with the talks re-launch.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had asked Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to resume talks describing demands for a settlement freeze as an unaccepted pre-condition.

"I believe it is already crystal clear, even for the ordinary man in the streets, that the Obama administration is thoroughly fettered by the Zionist lobby which imposes its will on the American government and forces it to provide Israel with state-of-the-art technology of death in order to subjugate and destroy the Palestinian people," contends Kawasmi.

According to a recent opinion poll by the Harry Truman Research Institute at the Hebrew University and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Rmallah, 69 percent of Palestinians view the Obama administration as strongly supportive of Israel.

Only three per cent of respondents see the president as supportive of the Palestinians.

No Balancing

Other Palestinian intellectuals think that Obama, at least at the personal level, might be sympathetic to Palestinian grievances.

However, they argue, his ability to effect change is limited given the American political establishment’s overwhelming and longstanding support of Israel.

"Obama may be sincere about wanting to see a viable Palestinian state," Hani al Masri, a political commentator and head of the Ramallah-based Bada’el think-tank, told IOL.

"But he seems to lack a coherent plan and the strong will to implement his vision."

Al-Masri argues that the Israeli lobby, whose power he doesn’t deny or ignore, is only one factor contributing to the Obama’s administration "weakness" vis-ŕ-vis Israel.

"He is under heavy Jewish pressure. There is no doubt about this. But we have to remember also that there is no balancing Arab or Muslim pressure on his administration," contends the expert.

"After all, international relations are not based on charity or altruism, but on power politics and on mutual interests."

He says Palestinians and Arabs in general think the world would or should support their cause wholeheartedly just because it is a just one.

"I assure you that even if we waited for 200 years, not only until the expiration of Obama’s term in office, the Obama administration wouldn’t exert any meaningful pressure on Israel unless it is forced to.

"This is what Arab states have so far failed to understand."

Al-Masri says Arabs simply don’t feel they have to counter Israeli pressures as long as their interests remain unscathed.

"So, I think nothing will happen as long as the Arab and Muslim bloc doesn’t speak to the US in the language of mutual interests and expediency."

While Kawasmi and al-Masri agree that the US should be enlisted to pressure Israel to end its occupation of Arab lands, they warn that excessive dependence on consecutive American administrations to do the job for the Arabs is harmful to the Palestinian cause.

These American administrations, including the former Bush administration, repeatedly declared support for the creation of a viable Palestinian state based on the pre-1967 borders.

However, instead of acting on their declared undertakings, both the Bush and Obama administrations, effectively pursued policies that enabled Israel to challenge and even defy American pressure.

Like al-Masri, Ahmed Yousuf, a former political advisor to Gaza Premier Ismail Haniya, believes that there is "so much naivety and innocence" in the way Arab states deal with the US.

"It should be clear by now that the US will not pressure Israel to end the occupation unless the Muslim world exerts real pressure on the US to do so," he told IOL.

"And the Muslim world has numerous cards to play in this regard," Yousuf believes.

"So, I can say that in reality, the ball is not in the American court, but in our court."






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