RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) – Palestinians say they are disappointed in President Barack Obama but not surprised by his especially warm embrace of Israel in an election year.
Still, his weekend speech to the powerful pro-Israel lobby AIPAC was perceived in the West Bank as unprecedented in its show of support for Israel. It raised eyebrows even among hardened skeptics who have lost faith in Washington’s ability to serve as an honest Mideast broker.
“It was very clearly an election speech, to win votes and influence people in the U.S. and Israel,” Hanan Ashrawi, a senior PLO official, told reporters Monday.
“We couldn’t believe that the U.S. president is out there to prove that he is good for Israel, that for three years he has done everything Israel wanted,” she said, referring to Obama’s repeated reminders to AIPAC that as president he often sided with the Jewish state.
“In many ways, people saw that as demeaning,” Ashrawi said of Obama’s appearance.
In his speech, Obama made only a passing reference to the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations that he has been unable to restart since they broke down in 2008.
His speech to AIPAC and Monday’s White House meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were dominated by Iran and how to prevent Tehran from getting nuclear weapons. Israel hints at a possible military strike, while Obama says sanctions must be given more time.
Palestinian officials warned that it’s dangerous to push the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the sidelines, and that as long as it festers, there can’t be stability in the Middle East.
“What interests us is that the United States be committed to a real peace process, but the U.S. is busy with the elections,” said Nabil Abu Rdeneh, an adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. He complained that the world is standing by while Netanyahu continues to build settlements on occupied lands the Palestinians want for their state.
Obama’s Mideast efforts ran aground soon after he became president, when he failed to get the two sides to agree to the rules of renewed negotiations.
Abbas says he will not negotiate as long as Israel expands settlements. He also insists that Netanyahu accept the cease-fire line of the eve of the 1967 war _ in which Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem _ as the baseline for talks on the borders of a Palestinian state.
Netanyahu has rejected both demands, and also retreated from positions held by his predecessor, Ehud Olmert, including a willingness to partition Jerusalem. Olmert’s policy did not lead to an agreement.
Palestinian officials say they expect little from the U.S. until after November’s presidential election. Obama predecessors Bill Clinton and George W. Bush became more engaged in the Middle East in their second terms, once domestic electoral concerns played less of a role.
Palestinian analyst Majed Swailim said Netanyahu can pressure Obama during an election year by rallying the pro-Israel lobby in the U.S., but that this will change after November.
“The U.S. administration knows that handling the Palestinian issue is very crucial in addressing the changes in the region” following the popular uprisings of the Arab Spring that swept the Middle East last year, he said.
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