Palestinians see Obama visit as reminder of broken promises
As President Obama visits Ramallah in the West Bank, the mood among Palestinians is far from the hopes he ignited in Cairo in 2009. They would like to see Obama take a more even-handed, active role in brokering talks with Israel and a tougher stance on Israeli settlement construction.
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Or perhaps he could meet with relatives of Palestinian prisoners, many of whom have launched long-term hunger strikes to protest their arrest and incarceration without charge by Israeli authorities. Even Obama’s journey from Israel to Ramallah is scheduled to take place by helicopter, thereby bypassing the wall that snakes its way around much of the West Bank, annexing land into Israel and separating the holy city of Jerusalem from its Palestinian suburbs.Skip to next paragraph
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This morning, Obama met with Abbas, whom many of his constituents feel has outlived his mandate. During his time, Palestinians managed to update their status at the United Nations, but that was not enough to offset the seething anger rippling through the streets over the status quo: an economy in shambles, a political stalemate, and more land confiscation for Israeli settlements.
The White House has gone out of its way to ensure that very low expectations are set for this visit, but Palestinians who are weary after witnessing little change in their political landscape since Obama’s first term see this trip mainly as an opportunity for Israel and the US to address issues in Iran and Syria.
Wednesday's meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Obama was the tenth since Obama was elected. No other world leader has managed to secure as many meetings with the US president since he took office some five years ago.
Pessimism in the West Bank is compounded by the view that the trip is merely an attempt to bury the hatchet between the two leaders, whose relationship has been fraught with highly publicized spats. The White House has already stressed that the visit constitutes a “chance to connect with the Israeli people.” Palestinians feel that they play no part in that equation.
Palestinian frustration has reached a profound and unprecedented level as of late, replacing the sense of hope many had following Obama’s historic speech in Cairo. Today, Palestinians see a US president that has, like many others before him, failed them by not only distancing himself from the conflict, but by actively working against Palestinians’ interests, such as vetoing their status upgrade at the United Nations.
During Tuesday’s demonstration by Palestinians, many small signs carried slogans with large meanings. One was marked with the words “No Hope” – a play on Obama’s campaign buzzword. Another read, “We have a Dream, Too” – in a nod to civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous speech. Another stated, “Obama you promised us hope and change, you gave us colonies and apartheid.”
When Obama visits a youth center in Al-Bireh near Ramallah following talks with President Abbas and his Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, the Israeli settlement of Psagot will be visible in the distance. Palestinians are wondering if Obama will notice.
Dalia Hatuqa is a Ramallah-based writer who previously worked for Al Jazeera in Washington, DC.