Israelis uncertain about Obama visit, Palestinians have low hopes

July 20th, 2008 - 2:58 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Barack Obama
DPA
Jerusalem, July 20 (DPA) While Israelis appear uncertain of what to make of US presidential nominee Barack Obama or what to expect if he were elected, Palestinians seem to have no real high hopes for any major changes in US Middle East policy which they believe strongly favours Israel anyway. Both sides are nevertheless keen to see what Obama has to say when arrives on a brief campaign tour next week, during which he is expected to divide his time between Jerusalem in Israel and Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, meeting officials from both sides of the conflict.

Israelis say Obama has been sending mixed signals.

His campaign has gone to some length to dispel hearsay and rumour of any hostility towards Israel. But many Israelis still seem more confident that Obama’s rival Republican nominee John McCain would continue Washington’s generally supportive relationship with their government.

“We simply don’t know,” Tel Aviv taxi driver Ze’ev Kaminski said, expressing a generally common reaction in Tel Aviv to the question of what Israelis think they can expect of an Obama presidency in the US.

“If McCain is elected, we expect the good relationship to carry forth. But Obama hasn’t been very clear on where he stands on the Middle East exactly and whether he even understands the issues,” retired Israeli accountant Dafna Vered said.

Juma’a Shreim, a civil engineer from a village near Ramallah, meanwhile, summed up what appeared to be a popular view among Palestinians that Obama’s visit would simply see him trying to curry favour with Israel to secure the Jewish-American vote.

Obama, with a visit to the region that includes an appearance in Ramallah - which McCain did not make when he was in the region in March - will set out to clarify his position on the Middle East and send a message of ‘I will stand with Israel, but will also work for peace,’ Shmuel Rosner, a columnist for Israel’s Haaretz newspaper wrote recently.

Muhannad Abdul Hamid, a newspaper columnist in the West Bank, also interprets as a message the visit to the Muqata, the Palestinian presidential headquarters in Ramallah, by a US presidential nominee who could make a more “rational and logical” leader than current US President George W Bush.

“It says he wants to hear and learn and this is why he wants to visit Ramallah.”

“Of course his visit here is mainly for Israel and we are just a small part of his visit to Israel. Yet it will be a chance for him to learn more about the Palestinians after he hears directly from them about the conflict.”

But Obama “will not be able to ignore the importance of Israel and US ties to Israel,” Hamid added.

Palestinians were outraged by Obama’s recent comments on Jerusalem being the undivided capital of Israel - which went against the grain of US policy - on which he later clumsily backtracked.

Some see his planned visit to Palestinian areas as thrown in more as a fact-finding mission than any show of solidarity or sympathy for Palestinian issues.

“Obama is not Bush,” said Sharif Abdul Salam, a college student from Ramallah. “Obama will make a difference in American politics, not only in the Middle East, but in the world in general.

For Shreim, however, “All American presidents are the same. They cannot tell Israel what to do. On the contrary, Israel tells them all what to do. Just because Obama is black does not mean he is going to be any different.”
DPA

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