Wednesday, 7 March 2007

Palestinians not happy with Obama

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

From Matthew Kalman, Jerusalem

Some Palestinians are feeling betrayed by Barack Obama. They say the man who at one time called for an "even-handed" approach to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. has done a policy U-turn now that he's running for president.

Speaking to a forum at the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee in Chicago on Friday (prepared text here), Obama called for "a clear and strong commitment to the security of Israel: our strongest ally in the region and its only established democracy."

He went futher, condemning "the smuggling of weapons and cash by Iran into Gaza" and vowing to continue "our total commitment to our unique defense relationship with Israel" to "help Israel maintain its military edge and deter and repel attacks from as far as Tehran and as close as Gaza."

Ali Abunimah, founder of The Electronic Intifada, criticized Obama's "about-face."

"Obama offered not a single word of criticism of Israel, of its relentless settlement and wall construction, of the closures that make life unlivable for millions of Palestinians," Abunimah wrote in an editorial.

"While constantly emphasizing his concern about the threat Israelis face from Palestinians, Obama said nothing about the exponentially more lethal threat Israelis present to Palestinians."

He said Obama used to be more supportive of the Palestinian cause and recalled hearing him at a Chicago fundraiser in 2000.

"On that occasion and others Obama was forthright in his criticism of US policy and his call for an even-handed approach to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict."

But then began a "gradual shift" towards the pro-Israel camp.

"The last time I spoke to Obama was in the winter of 2004 at a gathering in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood. He was in the midst of a primary campaign to secure the Democratic nomination for the United States Senate seat he now occupies. But at that time polls showed him trailing.

"As he came in from the cold and took off his coat, I went up to greet him. He responded warmly, and volunteered, 'Hey, I'm sorry I haven't said more about Palestine right now, but we are in a tough primary race. I'm hoping when things calm down I can be more up front.'"

Mohammed Dajani, director of American Studies at Al Quds University in Jerusalem which Obama visited last year, has more confidence in Obama.

"His support for peace and a peaceful solution to the problem is much more valuable than his support for one side or another," Dajani todl me.

Walid Awad, a spokesman for President Abbas's Fatah party, said, in an interview, that Obama's pro-Israel statements were to be "expected really."

"Obama is a new face in America and he has to please everybody, most of all the Jewish lobby over there, so he cannot win without showing some inclination towards Israel," he said.

"Americans who want to be elected into office always are very keen on showing their support for Israel. The Jewish vote is important because the Jews supply the money and if he gets on wrong side of them he has no chance at all.

"It's like Mrs Clinton. Earlier she was pro-Palestinian and then she changed her attitudes. This is the format of the way things go in the United States.

"What matters to Obama most is to get the votes. If gets the votes by being pro-Israeli and pro-Jews he will do it. Hopefully once he gets the votes something will change.


Matthew Kalman is a Chronicle Foreign Service correspondent, based in Jerusalem.

Posted By: Foreign and National Desk (Email) | March 07 2007 at 12:32 PM

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