Pales­tini­ans feel left be­hind by Obama’s pro-is­rael stand

The Washington Times Daily - - World - BY BEN BIRN­BAUM

Pales­tinian of­fi­cials on Mon­day lamented that their quest for state­hood has taken a back seat to Iran’s nu­clear pro­gram and Pres­i­dent Obama’s re-elec­tion cam­paign, a day af­ter Mr. Obama de­liv­ered a de­fense of his Mideast pol­icy to a top pro-is­rael lob­by­ing group.

In his speech to the an­nual gath­er­ing of the Amer­i­can Is­rael Public Af­fairs Com­mit­tee, Mr. Obama said that “at ev­ery cru­cial junc­ture — at ev­ery fork in the road — we have been there for Is­rael,” re­mind­ing the au­di­ence of his op­po­si­tion last year to the Pales­tinian bid for U.N. mem­ber­ship.

Mr. Obama re­it­er­ated his sup­port for a Pales­tinian state, but most of his speech fo­cused on stop­ping Iran from ac­quir­ing nu­clear weapons.

Pales­tinian spokes­woman Hanan Ashrawi told The Washington Times on Mon­day that she thought Mr. Obama had “re­ally ex­posed his hand.”

“I thought this was a quin­tes­sen­tial elec­tion speech ap­peal­ing for votes pri­mar­ily, try­ing to demon­strate al­le­giance to Is­rael as a way back to the White House,” she said. “It’s un­con­scionable.”

But she and other Pales­tinian of­fi­cials say they are not sur­prised at the pres­i­dent’s pro-is­rael tone.

“You’re dis­ap­pointed when you have ex­pec­ta­tions,” Ms. Ashrawi said. “We’re not dis­ap­pointed be­cause we didn’t have ex­pec­ta­tions. I agree with Pres­i­dent Obama that no one has served Is­rael so faith­fully as him.” Pales­tinian of­fi­cials have soured on Mr. Obama, who spent much of his first two years in of­fice seek­ing a two-state so­lu­tion to the Is­raeli-pales­tinian con­flict.

“We had very high hopes when this ad­min­is­tra­tion took of­fice,” the top Pales­tinian rep­re­sen­ta­tive to Washington, Maen Rashid Areikat, said Mon­day. “We were very much en­cour­aged by their early ef­forts to rein­vig­o­rate the peace process.” Those mea­sures — such as Mr. Obama’s call for an Is­raeli set­tle­ment freeze and his in­sis­tence that a two-state so­lu­tion be based on Is­rael’s pre-1967 borders — were the same ones that ini­tially made many Is­raelis wary of him.

But faced with an Is­raeli gov­ern­ment more con­cerned with Iran and a Pales­tinian lead­er­ship that re­fuses to re­turn to di­rect ne­go­ti­a­tions, Mr. Obama largely has dis­en­gaged from the Is­raeliPales­tinian con­flict.

And with Re­pub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates crit­i­ciz­ing his pro-is­rael bona fides, he has sought to re­as­sure Jewish vot­ers that — as he put it Sun­day — “when the chips are down, I have Is­rael’s back.”

Mr. Areikat and Ms. Ashrawi said Mr. Obama long ago had aban­doned any pre­tense of be­ing an even­handed bro­ker in the con­flict.

“They have to hold all par­ties ac­count­able,” Mr. Areikat said. “What we have is a sit­u­a­tion where the Pales­tinian side was al­ways held ac­count­able, while Is­raelis got away with their ef­forts to un­der­mine the process.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Pres­i­dent Obama re­it­er­ates his sup­port for Is­rael on Sun­day at Amer­i­can Is­rael Public Af­fairs Com­mit­tee’s an­nual pol­icy con­fer­ence, com­ments that didn’t sit well with Pales­tini­ans.

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