Israel on Nobel Peace Prize: Hopes for progress

Israeli and Palestinian officials both had praise for President Obama, despite disappointment in peace process

By , Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

Top Israeli and Palestinian government officials both had words of praise for President Barack Obama following the announcement of the Nobel Peace Prize. The well-wishers included Israeli President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat.

But Obama's efforts to push a comprehensive peace between Israelis and Arabs is still a work in progress, and many in both the Palestinian and Israeli camps have been disappointed as Obama has, so far, fallen short of expectations.

Israel Radio political commentator Yaron Dekel noted that the excitement from Mr. Obama's address to the Arab world in Cairo has long dissipated, and Israelis and Palestinians are not rushing to the negotiations table.

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"Almost nine months of pregnancy at the White House has not given birth to one peace or any [significant] progress under the inspiration of American president," he said. "Whoever had hope that President Obama would lead a military operation against Tehran, today those hopes have evaporated. A Noble Peace Prize laureate doesn't rush into to any war."

Right-wing politicians in Netanyahu's Likud Party worried that the prize would ratchet up pressure on Obama to force Israel into making risky concessions for peace.

Pinchas Wallerstein, a veteran leader of the Israeli settlers in the West Bank, said that most Israeli Jews feel threatened by Obama.

"Unfortunately, the Nobel Prize doesn't prove anything. [Yasser] Arafat and [Yitzhak] Rabin received the Nobel Prize," he said. "Unfortunately, that has no significance that's relevant to peace. It has a public relations significance."

Palestinians have been disappointed by Obama because so far he hasn't been able to make good on a call for Israel to stop building settlements. In the past month, Obama's summit with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu hurt Mr. Abbas because he agreed to meet the Israeli leader without having gotten a settlement freeze.

"[The prize] good for him personally, but for us, the Palestinians, we don't see any improvement in our daily life," says Nashat Aqtash, a professor at Bir Zeit University in Ramallah, the West Bank. "The [Palestinian Authority] is getting weaker. Gaza is under siege, so what kind of peace are we talking about here?

But Ghassan Khatib, the head of the Palestinian Media Center, expressed hope that the prize would inspire the president to redouble his efforts for peace. "It will give him further challenges," he says. "He has to live up to it and earn it now."

Read about the international politics behind Obama's Nobel Peace Prize.

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