Palestinians ‘optimistic’ over Obama

By Ben Lynfield, November 6, 2008
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Palestinian leaders are hoping Barack Obama's campaign emphasis on change will translate in office into a shift away from what they view as reflexive American support for Israel.

"I don't know if there is going to be pressure on Israel but he may have a different approach, one of engaging the Israelis, of persuading them," former Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Ziyad Abu Amer said.

Mr Abu Amer, who served in the Fatah-Hamas national unity government that broke down in June 2007, said that Mr Obama may be more inclined to take into account UN and other international resolutions on the conflict and the views of the Arab world and US allies who opposed outgoing President Bush's Middle East policies.

"The old approach of US foreign policy towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been to stress what is possible, not what is required. Perhaps Obama can move a bit from that vision towards what is required and what is required can now be applied equally to both sides," Mr Amer said in a phone interview from Gaza.

"Obama may have to work on his advisers and the [pro-Israel] lobby. But the man is intelligent and intellectual and he knows what flies and what doesn't."

Walid Awad, spokesman for the Fatah Central Media Commission, based in Ramallah, called on Mr Obama to immediately devote his attention to Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy when he takes office in January.

"Bush did not deal with the conflict until it was too late and he did not pressure Israel enough to bring about a solution," Mr Awad said. He voiced concern about reports that Mr Obama may appoint one of his campaign's Middle East advisers, long-time US Middle East envoy Dennis Ross, to a senior foreign policy position. "He's never been fair with the Palestinians so bringing him back into the fold would be counter-productive. Obama has to bring in new faces."

However, Hossam Khader, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council from Balata Refugee Camp in Nablus, said that the satisfaction being expressed by some politicians about the Obama victory will prove
unjustified.

"Obama will be better for the American people and that's great. But I don't think he will change even one item in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Department of State sets its policy according to the lobbyists that support Israel. He will fail in this issue. He will offer nothing and change nothing. If he offers anything at all, it will only be a public relations morphine fix for Abbas, not a change in policy" said Mr Khader, a leader of Fatah's young guard who was recently released after five years in Israeli prisons.

Israeli Arab MK Taleb al-Sanaa said: "The very fact of Obama's victory serves the idea of democracy more than all the tanks Bush sent to Iraq. This gives a historic chance to the idea that conflicts can be solved by dialogue rather than by force." But he did not expect an immediate change in the US approach to Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, since they were subject to elements beyond the control of the President.

He cited the current internal Palestinian fighting between Fatah and Hamas, pointing out that they may receive another blow if a right-wing government wins the Israeli elections.

Mr al-Sanaa called on Mr Obama to embrace the Arab League peace initiative calling for a full Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Golan Heights in exchange for full normalisation of relations with the Arab world.

    Last updated: 10:07am, November 7 2008