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Obama's stature among Muslims slips over Israeli-Palestinian standoff

A year after Barack Obama's famous Cairo speech, failure to make headway in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has become a focal point for disappointment among Muslims. Sixty percent of Arabs say he's too weak to deliver a peace agreement.

By Correspondent / June 4, 2010

Palestinian girls walk near a Obama billboard in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Some Arabs have shown disappointment in the president's failure to gain ground on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Tara Todras-Whitehill/AP



A year after President Obama pledged a new beginning to US-Muslim relations in a historic speech here, much of the excitement he inspired is turning to disappointment.

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The Cairo speech, in which Mr. Obama outlined a relationship based on mutual interests and respect, left many in the region hopeful of significant change from Bush policies. But while many still believe that Obama has good intentions, the perception that he has failed to deliver on his promises has deflated those hopes and led some to conclude he is backing down from positions laid out on June 4 last year.

Former investment banker Rana Jarbou of Saudi Arabia says none of Obama's efforts so far have been in line with the "new beginning" he pledged. She has been disappointed with what she views as a turn to Bush-era rhetoric about terrorism, which she fears could be used as a pretext for attacking Iran, and what she calls his unilateral decision to send more troops to Afghanistan.

"With regard to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, no concrete steps have been made, and the whole region is definitely affected and influenced by this conflict," says Ms. Jarbou, now an aspiring social entrepreneur. "It didn't take too long to make note of his contradictory approach."

Israel's raid May 31 on a humanitarian flotilla set for Gaza, which left at least nine activists dead and brought fierce criticism on Israel from governments around of world, has brought further calls for Obama to prove he is an ally to Muslim countries.

"The US response to Israel’s disproportionate use of violence against innocent civilians constitutes a test case for US credibility in the Middle East," Suat Kiniklioglu, the ruling AK (Justice and Development) Party’s deputy chairman of external affairs, said in a op-ed. "The United States will itself determine what sort of Middle East it will be dealing with in the future by its response to Israel’s actions."

In his Cairo speech, Obama promised to fight violent extremism in a way that engages, not alienates, the Muslim world; to work to resolve the Iranian nuclear situation; and to support democracy in the region.

Israeli-Palestinian conflict undermines Obama

Obama pledged to advance a new era of US policy in the Middle East, one based on mutual interest and respect. But his inability to make headway, especially on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, has opened the way for other regional actors – such as Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah – to wield more influence.