What Have You Done for Us Lately? Why the Palestinians Are Put Out With Obama Too

The American President, already suffering a dearth of popularity in Israel, isn't getting high marks from the Palestinians either

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AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS

A Palestinian demonstrator holds shoes and a digitally manipulated placard depicting President Barack Obama during a protest in the West Bank city of Ramallah on March 19, 2013

Updated: March 21, 2013 at 5:30 a.m. EST

Were he a journalist, President Obama could claim he must be doing something right in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Look: both sides are mad at him! But he’s a politician, and the conundrum he faces on both sides of the Green Line fits like a straitjacket.

The skepticism that greets Obama in Israel — where a newspaper poll last week found only 1 in 10 Israelis are “favorable” toward him — is grounded in the very assumption that once raised hopes in the Palestinian territories: that a black American President who came of age in the third world harbored real feelings for their situation. But the height of the hopes only deepened the reservoir of disappointment that awaits him in the West Bank. In Ramallah, where Obama meets Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday, posters heralding his arrival were promptly defaced with red X’s (and, as the Associated Press reported on Thursday, Obama was planning to emphasize the importance of reaching an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, before Palestinian militants in Gaza launched rockets into southern Israel). In Bethlehem, where he will visit the Church of the Nativity on Friday, motorists earlier this week took turns driving over his image on a grubby street.

“I am very disappointed in Obama, since he is the key to our hope,” says Hayil Mansara, 53, a native of Hebron, a city divided between Palestinians and militant Jewish settlers. “Unfortunately the pressure of the Israelis is much stronger and louder. Therefore he is not planning on unlocking any of our rights soon.”

(PHOTOS: President Obama’s First Trip to Israel)

“I don’t understand,” Mansara goes on. “He is a black man, with roots from Africa. His people suffered from racism, and his family are still in Africa. So why isn’t he interested or willing to help us gain our rights and freedom?”

As Abbas likes to point out, Washington has never pretended to fill the role of impartial mediator in the Palestinian contest with Israel. “The United States is our friend,” he told TIME last year. “But it is Israel’s ally.” Even so, hopes soared in the West Bank and Gaza Strip when Obama was first elected, and the sympathetic tenor of his Cairo address to the Muslim world only heightened expectations. But while the new President succeeded in freezing Israeli settlements in the West Bank for 10 months (an opening that Abbas largely let pass), what Palestinians remember of Obama’s first term was his rigid opposition to U.N. recognition of Palestine as a member state. In the West Bank, Obama’s visit to the region is understood as advertised — as an effort to reach out to Israeli Jews who remain wary of the American President despite what Israeli officials acknowledge has been intensive support for Israel, especially in military and diplomatic realms.

“Four years ago I had hoped that he might bring about a change, return our land, free the prisoners, assure refugees the right to return [to homes inside present-day Israel they left in 1948],” says Aseel Zaid, 18, a community-college student in Qalqilya, a small city near the separation barrier. “But four years have passed and nothing achieved. Things have just gotten worse.”

Palestinians say they are further discouraged by the makeup of the new Israeli government sworn in under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Though the agreement binding the parties into a governing coalition calls for resuming negotiations with the Palestinian leadership, none of the major parties profess much enthusiasm for the process. Meanwhile, prosettler activists have taken control of ministries crucial to advancing Israeli settlements in the West Bank, the approximately 200 Jewish subdivisions and cities that greatly undermine the possibility of a future Palestinian state.

“He did not stand by us to gain our own state, so what does this tell you about his goals and efforts?” asks Shams Mansour, 24, a truck driver in Qalqilya. “I think this trip is intended only for the Israelis. To show that he is neutral he will visit the occupied Palestinian territories — but only as a tourist.”

In Ramallah, Obama will talk with Abbas, then pay a call to a youth center in the neighboring city of al-Bireh, a municipality known for the expansive homes built by Palestinians who have emigrated to the U.S., done well and sent money back. Dual citizenship tends to make the experience of living under occupation — Israeli troops have controlled the West Bank since 1967 — more poignant.

“When I am living in the U.S. I always feel as though I am free and that my rights are protected like everyone else,” says Ghassan Abed, 43, who owns businesses in New York. “Unfortunately, living now in the town of al-Bireh I must say that I feel no sense of freedom. I am not able to travel to Israel without applying for a permit from the Israelis and then having to wait to be approved or granted the right to enter my people’s confiscated land.”

Mutasem Nabhan was on vacation from Boston, where he owns several businesses. “When I come to visit my family here, I am harassed at the airport despite my U.S. citizenship just because I am a Palestinian,” he tells TIME. “In the U.S., you feel the real meaning of freedom. Just as long as you obeyed and follow all the laws, no one will bother you nor will anyone question why you are going to a certain place.”

And yet, Nabhan expects Obama to “push for peace.” Palestinian leaders like Abbas, having sworn off armed resistance, often say hope is all they have to offer their public, and even in the more discouraging periods — talks have been frozen since 2008 — many grope for optimism. Waseem Shobak, 58, a retired schoolteacher and father of five in Qalqilya, was not about to turn away the U.S. President quite yet. “Till now we have not seen anything positive from him, so we are still hoping that he may be able to bring about a change to our cause,” Shobak says. “Since he is the most powerful man in the world after Allah, maybe my children will be able to find jobs and be able to live normal lives.”

— With reporting by Rami Nazzal / Qalqilya and Ramallah

73 comments
MarkGarcia
MarkGarcia

The problem with articles like these is that they are really only op-ed pieces meant to express the author's opinion that the US Foreign Policy should treat Israel and Palestine equally and fair, and the fact that President Obama has been forced against his own instincts by the Republican right to side with Israel, is in the end, an undesirable policy. The author is making this point with subterfuge.

How ever the Israelis and Palestinians eventually work thing out it should be the position of the United States to remain a firm and an unequivocally staunch ally of Israel. In doing so we will continue to reap the benefits of having a strong friendly presence in the region. Which is namely the clear understanding among all powers in the world, both locally to the region and further abroad, that escalating tensions in the region beyond such low level conflicts as we have seen in Syrian and the events that transpired during the Arab Spring, will result in an overwhelming American military response. This assures a measure of peace around the world, or to put it another way; a measure of war short of that which occurred during the world wars of the last century.

Our alliance with Israel functions as the line in the sand to maintain the peace and or low level of conflict in the region.

I think the Palestinians should be working to encourage Israel to adopt a more secular and inclusive society with equal rights for all, and in doing so the two peoples might be able to forge a one state solution.

Bluhorizon
Bluhorizon

Everyone, it seems, wants a 2-state solution except the Israelis and the Palestinians. Recent polls show that only about 1/3 of the Palestinians accept a 2-state solution. Sixty-six percent said the Palestinians’ real goal should be to start with a two-state solution but then move to it all being one Palestinian state. Only 3% thought that Jerusalem should be a shared city. 2/3 agree with the quotation from the hadith incorporated in the Fata charter stating that Jews should be killed.Do these attitudes create the conditions for a settlement?It is quite impossible for any Palestinian PM to cut a deal.  And what about Gaza? How does a totally hostile terrorist state fit into this picture? 

On the other side, the Orthodox Jews think God gave them the holy land and they intend to take back every inch of it, a mirror image of the Palestinian attitude.  The Orthodox are a minority in Israel but they are unified, highly organized and politically powerful.  It is quite impossible for any Israeli PM to make a settlement.

Last but not least, we keep forgetting about the third, powerful party in this mess, the most powerful group of all: the developers.  What force in the universe can stop developers?  They run around glad-handing and dispensing gifts, supporting candidates and hiring lobbyists.  The West Bank looks like a giant free taco to them--and they will get it.

Every American president has tried to resolve this mess but after 64 years our presidents have learned that the best approach is to make great speeches (like Obama made) and move on.  

CrossWinds
CrossWinds

When America intervenes in the middle east, they Cry Foul.........When they don't intervene, they Cry Foul

reasonableconservative
reasonableconservative

Wait a second.  I thought that Obama's apology tour was supposed make everyone and everything ok.  What happened?

j45ashton
j45ashton

The Israelis under Netanyahu want an agreement skewed to the Israelis.  The Palestinian either want an agreement skewed toward them or Israel to disappear.  It doesn't matter who is US president.  Either one side is happy & the other isn't or both sides are unhappy.   Is anybody so foolish to think that both sides are going to be happy beofre or during a peace process?  Both sides unhappy but willing to make accommodation is he only way.  Just don't expect a peace setlement in our life time. 

Goober
Goober

Seriously?  The Palestinians are pissed at us?  What have they ever done except rail against the "alleged injustices the U.S. have perpetrated against them"?  Screw them! 

Yvonmoua
Yvonmoua

Iran chase dogs for ever.   

wrbirkholz
wrbirkholz

Sorry!!!! South Koreans, Of course!!!!

wrbirkholz
wrbirkholz

We are always told that Israel is our best friend and ally. But when I served in Vietnam the troops next to us were Australiens and North Koreans and they fought WITH us side by side. I have yet to see any Israeli troop fighting with us SIDE by side in any of our wars, especially in their neighborhood. How Come?

aarona
aarona

Do you live like a palestinian? wife under a drape. no civil rights. no democracy. no secular education. no minority rights. no freedom of religion. sell your daughter. cut off your hand. on and on. because they do have plans for you.   


ax49
ax49

The President has grown up since his days of touring the middle east in his first years as president. He has directly engaged with the enemy which are of course Islamist paramilitary and terrorist forces around the world. His opinion and actions have shifted more towards Israel because he like any intelligent individual can see that Israel is on the defensive and doing its best to protect itself. Obama has seen all the countries were he once preached for democracy during the Arab Spring turn into Islamist ruled governments. Morsi in Egypt, Erdogan in Turkey both opened Obama's eyes, he saw these two liars, trick their country into voting for them in the name of liberty and once they won they slowly transformed their nation's constitution to Shari'ah law. Obama sees the inherent evil of Islamists, their extreme interpretation of Islam oppresses anyone who does not share the same views as them Muslim or not, their expansionist mindset and also the Islamist beliefs that  severely oppresses women (look at Malala in Pakistan). These are not normal Muslims these Islamist, they are evil people who use religion as a weapon to gain power and money. Real Muslims don't do the these things. And what Obama has seen in the Palestinian territories is Hamas, the terrorist, Islamist organization that has killed far more Palestinians than the IDF has. The same organization that started a bloody war during Operation Pillar of Defense, targeting Israeli civilians and without any regard for their own civilians who suffered the majority of the IAF counterattacks. Obama like any rational person has learned that the Palestinians especially in gaza cannot be supported in anyway until they renounce, terrorism, renounce Hamas, and renounce all those who wish to destroy Israel because of some racial, or religious based hatred. Also Obama is slowly realizing that Israel is the only sane country in the region the only country that has something that resembles a fair democracy. Obama is learning... finally.

ArmandWinter
ArmandWinter

Hamas and Iran sent 50,000 troops to Syria to fight against the rebels.

NaderJunaid
NaderJunaid

The Unfotunate Irony of Hopeless inhabitants and the claimants of the throne of the God of Abraham and the Holly Lands is their denial of the rights of their kins to live repactably, guaranteed by the God Abraham. While in the Holly Lands, Mr. Obama may just offer to fund a DNA Test done under the UNO supervission of both the Jews and the Palistinians. Looking at thousands of years of their negativities and hate which are so mirror image of each other. The whole world knows that both of them are from Abraham's two Sons Ishmael and Issac, so why cant they just admit this and live in peace. Niether Palistinians, nor the Israelis have any right to blame our Prisident for their own wrong and misgivings. Pathetically they both practice Hate and genocide legalised in the name of peacful religion and survival. Just keep your religions and the Holly Lands but leave us alone. The world is sick of you all, let us live in peace and harmony.

donniemcbee
donniemcbee

“Four years ago I had hoped that he might bring about a change, return our land, free the prisoners,  assure refugees the right to return [to homes  inside present-day Israel they left in 1948],”  Eight years ago I wanted change, unfortunately I got it, and most of the change was bad!

So be careful what you ask for!


RafaSantos
RafaSantos

@j45ashton More "two-sides" mediocrity from a know-nothing spouting "mainstream wisdom".

ricardo_lion
ricardo_lion

@wrbirkholz   Israel is a very small country and at that time was busy defending against several Muslim Arab bloody dictatorships, medieval kingdoms and jihadi groups.

hsknyc
hsknyc

@wrbirkholz 

thx for you service in Vietnam.  My father has told me stories of being in the jungle with our trues allies, we are from South Korea. However, we dont want Israelis fighting next to us.  In the view of every Islamists, it will be a non-stop propaganda tool to recruit more martyrs.  Imagine Iraq invasion had Israeli force involved, it would have been an all out jihad for most radicals and even moderates will join the fight just because Israeli is involved.

ricardo_lion
ricardo_lion

@aarona   Agree.  No rights in the judenrein 80% of Palestine:  The autocratic Muslim Arab kingdom of Jordan, given by GB to one family from Arabia, Gaza, ruled by a Muslim terrorist group and the most of Judea and Samaria (including Bethlehem, city of Jewish King David and his descendant Jesus) given by stupid Israeli politicians to Egyptian Muslim Arab terrorist Arafat and his PLO (PA today).  No rigths in the judenrein Muslim Arab bloody dictatorships and medieval kingdoms that declared war on Israel either.  Israel is the Jewish (the religion of Jesus), democratic (rights for all) and civilized (no civil war, hanging of gays, women stoning, "honour" killing of girls, etc.) country in the region, 0,0000...1% of the ME, 20% of Palestine (just the name, a Jewish name, not Arabic, of a region, never a country).

RafaSantos
RafaSantos

@ArmandWinterHamas actually left Syria, where it was previously based, because of the uprising. Who SUPPOSEDLY sent in troops to Syria along with Iran, was Hezbollah. Do you know the difference between the two? No? I'll help you.


Hamas = Sunni, Palestinian.

Hezbollah = Shi'i, Lebanese.

You Americans are f* stupid animals. You know nothing about anything. I could only expect that you have an ego to match your knowledge, then you wouldn't risk running your dumb mouth about issues you know nothing about.

ax49
ax49

Why doesn't Time write and article about that, I bet more Syrian' civilians are being killed by Hamas fighters a week than IDF kills Palestinians.

donniemcbee
donniemcbee

@ArmandWinter Don't you mean terrorists?  These people are blowing innocent people up with car bombs!  So they are terrorists!

ax49
ax49

@NaderJunaid  you need to speak for yourself. It is untrue that both sides practice Hate as if it were some widely accepted notion. Israel a free democracy very much like the, US there is no brainwashing, no slogans smeared on the streets calling for Jews to kill Arabs. By listening to the way you speak I'm guessing you've never step foot in Israel. You probably don't know that Israel's 1 million plus Arabs enjoy the highest quality of life and political, religious freedom in the region. Did you know that Israel was the first country in the middle east to allow Muslim women to vote, that Arab and or Muslim individuals are allowed to hold office ( I believe their are 12 in the Kinesset). This hatred you speak of is only preached by a very small percentage of Israelis. On the Palestinian side there is definitely more hate mongering, racism and brainwashing but the average Palestinian doesn't want to fight a war, it is the leaders of organizations like Hamas and Islamic Jihad who create these problems. It's these Islamists that are creating most of the problems for both Israel and the Palestinian Terroritories.

ricardo_lion
ricardo_lion

@NaderJunaid   Are you really comparing Israel, the Jewish (the religion of Jesus), democratic (rights for all) and civilized (no civil war, hanging of gays, women stoning, "honour" killing of girls, etc.) to those judenrein Muslim Arab bloody dictatorships, medieval kingdoms and jihadi groups that declared war?

aarona
aarona

@NaderJunaid How educated and thoughtful you are. Obama cares because the day the arabs have a nuke oil goes to 500 a barrel. Israel has taken out two installations. What have you done to live so well. Your job or cheap energy. You ave no clue what you ask for. Fortunately there are a lot of smart people that do. 

ArmandWinter
ArmandWinter

@donniemcbeeLike a record high Dow?  Bad!   Not sucking up to the Jew World Order? Bad!  Expecting Romney to pay more than 13% ?  Bad!

How does Romney get away with laundering BILLIONS of unreported income through a bank in the Caymans owned by his Church?  Amegy Bank of Houston owned by Zions Bancorp.

ax49
ax49

Yea that was an odd thing for netanyahu to do, but the two really dont like each other. Obama is a guy who grew up in the world of advocacy prior to becoming the president all of his experience was in advocacy. He also grew up surrounding himself with only the "liberal" POV. So naturally he was extremely hostile to Republicans and vice versa. The relationship is still lacking but much like his views on the middle east Obama is starting to realize that Democrats need Republicans and Republicans need Democrats and the only and best way for a government to function is with balance. I'm telling you hes starting to learn how to be a president

ricardo_lion
ricardo_lion

@ax49   The IDF only kills Arabs (in judenrein Gaza or Jordanians, in the little still under Israel`s control from that territory reconquered in a defensive war against Jordan and not "Palestine", a country that never existed, jus the name of a region) when attacked.

asdfaf
asdfaf

@ricardo_lion @NaderJunaid Talk about generalizing about an entire religion and falling ill to stereotyping. Your comment is a bs loaded question. Try again.

donniemcbee
donniemcbee

@ArmandWinter @donniemcbee Did I say I liked  Robme?  I just don't like most of the presidents actions!  I could list them, but it would take to much time!  Main one is transparency in government.  Everything this president does is closed door meetings, and backroom deals!

ArmandWinter
ArmandWinter

@ax49Netanyahu lost power in his Parliament and almost got voted out... he's just another religious fundie nutcase

ax49
ax49

And I acknowledge  the fact that the country Palestine does not or has not ever existed. 


ax49
ax49

@ricardo_lion @ax49  I'm not quite sure I understand what you mean. I was talking about for instance the missile strikes during operation pillar of defense when the IDF targeted Hamas militants launching rockets and weapons stockpiles, unfortunately killing Gaza civilians because Hamas decided it was a good idea to use urban areas as human shields. Oh and in my original comment I meant Hezbollah not Hamas

aarona
aarona

@ArmandWinter @aarona @donniemcbee Armand, do you live like a palestinian? wife under a drape. no civil rights. no democracy. no secular education. no minority rights. no freedom of religion. sell your daughter. on and on. because they do have plans for your enlightened ass.  

ricardo_lion
ricardo_lion

@asdfaf @ricardo_lion @NaderJunaid   I dispise this entire religion, but not its followers, as individuals.  A religion invented by an Arab obsessed with Jews (today less than 0,2% of the world population).  All the "prophets" in the Koran are Jewish prophets, patriarchs, kings and rabbis.  Not Arabs like Mohammed himself or Inuits, Aztecs, Aborigenes, etc.  When the Muslim Arabs from Arabia invaded Palestine they built that vulgar mosque right on top of Judaism holiest site in the Jewish capital, Jerusalem. Right on the spot of the Temple stood, not one inch to the left or to the right.  Obsession.  Obsession is a disease and Islam, as Nazism, should be outlawed.  The Koran calls for the killing of one specific people.  Just guess.....

ArmandWinter
ArmandWinter

@donniemcbee @ArmandWinter Join the Mormons and move to Utah and then tell me about transparency.  Three members of our state executive branch are currently being investigated by the FBI... you would have plenty to snivel about.