Mar 20 2008

Obama and Palesine

Published by at 5:43 pm under Articles

By Daoud Kuttab
While the US presidential elections are being followed closely around the world, Palestinian appetite about the upcoming poll is insatiable. The feelings of Palestinians in the streets of Ramallah or the Gaza refugee camp is that the policies carried out by the resident of the White House will have a direct effect on their lives.

Republican nominee John McCain’s foreign policy doesn’t seem to be different from the current Bush Administrations’ unilateral military action, the continuation so called war on terror and boycotting the leaders of Syria and Iran. Senator Hillary Clinton who had the courage to call for a Palestinian state during her days as the first lady has become a pro Israeli hawk ever since she ran for the senate seat for the state of New York in 2000.
Senator Barak Obama, however, is seen differently. Not that he has made any major deviation from the standard US policy towards Israel, he hasn’t. But many believe that his background, candidacy, and his recent public discussion to members of the Jewish community in Cleveland Ohio, reveal a politically different kind of political candidate.
It is clear that Barack Obama personal narrative reflects a much more global candidate than the US presidential roster has ever experienced. At a time when the US world supremacy is uncontested, the world community feels shortchanged when only American issues dominate the elections of what in fact has become a global presidency. Unlike McCain’s single dimensional approach to the world’s 1.3 billion Muslims, Barack Obama is seen as a candidate who understands and empathizes with Muslims even while willing to militarily take on Ben Laden and his like with or without the ok of a US ally in Pakistan. Obama’s willingness to go after Al Qaedea without badmouthing Muslims (even as McCain and company repeatedly use the word radical Islam) reflects properly targeting America’s enemy for their actions and not for the religion that they belong to.
As presented on his web site and in his talks Obama’s multilateralism is very refreshing. His call for talking with your enemies rather than boycotting them gives genuine priority to diplomacy to war, truly leaving the latter as a last resort. Ironically the Obama campaign has avoided to apply their own concept to the issue of talking to the Islamic Hamas movement in Palestine. Their argument that Hamas is a movement and not a state doesn’t hold water considering that Palestinians have been yearning for a state decades and pro Hamas leaders where elected in a free and fair elections. If Obama was running for president a decade ago he surely would not have made that justification regarding talking to Mandela and the ANC (who also were not a state).
Obama supporters note that although he has refused to talk directly to Hamas, it is clear that his willingness to talk to the Syrian and Iranian leaders would provide a group like Hamas (whose leaders are supported by these countries) an opportunity to be heard, albeit, indirectly.
More specifically on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the Obama campaign has been very clear on supporting the two-state solution but has been vague on how to reach that. Ironically, Obama was the most forthcoming when speaking to 100 members of Cleveland’s Jewish Community transcripts of which where published in the NY Sun on February 25th 2008.
The junior senator from Illinois was not afraid of challenging hard line American Jewish leaders even while supporting Israeli security. “This is where I get to be honest and I hope I’m not out of school here. I think there is a strain within the pro-Israel community that says unless you adopt an unwavering pro-Likud approach to Israel that you’re anti-Israel and that can’t be the measure of our friendship with Israel,” he said. Obama listed his overall plans by stating: ” My goal then would be to solicit as many practical opinions as possible in terms of how we’re going to move forward on the improvement of [Palestinian-Israeli] relations and a sustainable peace.
The mixed race American candidate also said that he has consistently urged Palestinians when he was in Ramallah that they must “relinquish the right of return as it has been understood in the past. And that doesn’t mean that there may not be conversations about compensation issues ” Obama noted the irony that “one of the things that struck me when I went to Israel was how much more open the debate was around these issues in Israel than they are sometimes here in the United States. It’s very ironic.” Obama concluded by saying “I want practical, hardheaded, unromantic advice about how we’re going to achieve that.”
Unfortunately, however, and in response the statements of his pastor which included criticism of US support of Israeli “state sponsored terrorism against Palestinians,” Obama discounted all the national struggles of Palestinians (that included secular Palestinians, moderate Muslim and Christian Palestinians) by attacking Pastor Wright’s sermon as “a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.”
Despite all of that, for Palestinian clutching on the thinnest of straws to stay afloat, the Obama candidacy is for some a source of optimism. His consistent rejection of the war on Iraq and his willingness to withdraw and solve it diplomatically gives some hope that he will need to seriously deal with the Palestine issue if he wants to win the hearts and minds of Arabs and Muslims. They argue that if diplomacy will trump military in resolving the US problems in Iraq and the dispute with Iran a practical solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict will be necessary. Contrasted with the quickly fading promises of George Bush for a peace treaty in 2008, some are pinning some hope on the possibility of an Obama presidency.

Daoud Kuttab, an award winning Palestinian journalist is a visiting lecturer at Princeton University. His email is

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