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Barracking Obama, Part I
Moderates in the Arab world are growing increasingly vocal with their criticism of the US president’s Middle East policy, reports Trends. Part I.
December 30, 2009 11:11 by Ben Lynfield
Obama’s message that he was taking Palestinian suffering seriously certainly resonated in the Arab world. Former Jordanian foreign minister Kamal Abu Jaber said some people got carried away by the Obama charisma.
“The media was saying he would bring us salvation. We had received prophets in the past and now we were looking for this salvation again,” said Abu Jaber to an audience at Al-Quds University in the West Bank last month. He had previously headed the Jordan-Palestine delegation to the 1991 Madrid peace conference.
Perhaps the person most encouraged by the apparent change in approach was Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, a proponent of the idea that negotiations with Israel are the only way to establish a viable Palestinian state. Under Bush, with near automatic American support of an Israeli stall-and-settle strategy this seemed illusory, which is part of the reason the militant Hamas movement enjoyed such success in Palestinian legislative elections against Abbas’ Fatah in 2006. But Obama raised hopes of a change.
“The new administration seemed to understand that it is not logical to hold negotiations on ending the occupation while one party is consolidating the occupation” says Ghassan Khatib, director of the Palestinian Authority media center in Ramallah. Abbas was so encouraged by Obama¹s declarations that he made stopping settlements a precondition for resuming peace talks with Israel.
But now the sense among Abbas’ supporters is that Obama has let them down, and despite the hype is not staking out a new policy towards the Arab-Israeli conflict. This began to dawn on Palestinians as Obama¹s Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, failed during many months to get the Israelis to agree to a complete settlement halt.
And it became even more obvious to them when Obama himself dropped the demand during a trilateral summit with Netanyahu that America had pressured Abbas into attending. At the summit, instead of using the word “freezing” or “stopping” settlements as in the past, Obama for the first time ever spoke of Israel merely “restraining” settlement activity.