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Palestinians and Obama: The End of a Honeymoon PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 25 November 2009 00:35

by Khaled Abu Toameh
Courtesy Hudson Institute New York

Now it’s official: the honeymoon between the Palestinians and the administration of President Barack Obama is over. It was a honeymoon that lasted for nearly one year.

Many Palestinians were convinced that because of his color and background, Obama “was on our side.” They believed that in the White House there was finally a president who was more sympathetic to their causes and who would abandon Washington’s “bias” in favor of Israel.

Over the past year, mainstream Palestinian and Arab media outlets had been heaping praise on Obama, especially what they perceived to be his hostile attitude toward settlement construction. Reports about a crisis in relations bewteen the US and Israel were welcomed by many. It is hard to remember when the last time a US president had received positive coverage in the Arab media.

The Palestinians and Arabs liked Obama especially because he was not George W. Bush. They liked him because he said he would close Guatanamo Prison. They liked him because he traveled all the way to Cairo to address Arabs and Muslims and offer them an olive branch. They adored him because he seemed to be exerting heavy pressure on Israel.

Now, however, they feel betrayed by the Obama Administration. They have discovered that Obama is actually “continuing the Bush doctrine” with regards to the Middle East conflict. As far as they are concerned, Obama has “succumbed to pressure from the Jewish lobby in the US.”

The Palestinians discovered that Obama was “unfaithful” the day Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for an unconditional resumption of peace talks and praised the Israeli government for offering to slow down construction in some settlements. They viewed Clinton’s remarks as a departure from past US calls for a complete freeze on settlement construction.

The anti-US tone is once again a major theme in statements of leaders, politicians and columnists throughout the Arab world. Arab cartoonists and political commentators are now depicting Obama as a puppet in the hands of Israel and American Jews.

The higher the expectations, the bigger the disappointment,” noted former Palestinian Authority minister Ziad Abu Zayyad. “The Palestinian Authority thought that Obama had become more Palestinian than the Palestinians, that he would stop settlements, remove them and establish a Palestinian state.”

The Palestinian leadership was caught by surprise by the Obama Administration’s apparent change of policy toward the settlements. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, who was convinced that Obama had fully endorsed the Palestinian position, has been threatening not to run in a new election.

But his threat is not being taken seriously, not even by his inner circle. Some of Abbas’s top aides in Ramallah have openly admitted that his threat not to seek re-election was mainly intended to send a message to Obama that he must abandon Washington’s “bias” in favor of Israel.

Abbas’s threat was anyway not a serious one: He knew that he would never be able to hold elections without the consent of Hamas, which announced that it would not allow the vote to take place in the Gaza Strip. So Abbas was threatening to boycott an election which he knew he wouldn’t be able to hold in the first place.

Abbas is now waiting to see whether Obama will compensate him for his unfaithfulness. It has been several weeks since Abbas issued his threat and he still hasn’t heard from the White House. Every day that passes without a phone call from the White House brings with it an escalation in the rhetoric coming out of Ramallah.

One day, we are told, Abbas is considering resigning. The next day, we are told, he is considering dissolving the Palestinian Authority. Then there is the threat of unilaterally declaring a Palestinian state or scrapping the Oslo Accords. And, finally there is the most recent threat of resorting to violence by launching a “third intifada.”

Now that the honeymoon between Obama and the Arab and Muslims has ended, the battle is about to begin. For now, the battle has taken the form of a rhetorical onslaught on Obama and his staff. But the frustration and disappointment could also be translated into violence against the US and Israel.

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