Abbas, Erekat hope Obama will push for peace

Hamas urges Obama to stop "bias toward Israel"; PLO negotiator calls on Obama to support Palestinian UN status upgrade.

Obama meets with Abbas 311 (photo credit: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)
Obama meets with Abbas 311
(photo credit: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)
The Palestinian Authority on Wednesday welcomed the reelection of US President Barack Obama and expressed hope that it would be able to work together with his administration to achieve a just and comprehensive peace in the Middle East.
Other Palestinians, however, reacted with indifference to Obama’s victory and said that American foreign policy, which they claimed was in favor of Israel, would remain that way, regardless of the Democratic incumbent’s win.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas congratulated Obama on his victory in the election and praised him for his efforts to boost the peace process.
In his letter to Obama, Abbas said that he was prepared to work with the Americans to achieve a two-state solution and mutual respect between Palestinians and Israelis.
Chief PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat also welcomed the results of the election and voiced hope that the US administration would support the Palestinians’ attempt to obtain the status of non-member state in the UN later this month.
“Obama must stop the policy of settlements and other Israeli violations and not the Palestinian bid at the UN,” Erekat said.
He added that Obama must also realize that wars won’t lead to peace and stability.
Hamas, for its part, called on Obama to reassess his policy toward the Palestinians.
Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar expressed hope that Obama would change his “biased” policy in favor of Israel.
He said that if Obama insisted on pursuing his current policy, “nothing will change in the Middle East.”
Sami Abu Zuhri, a spokesman for Hamas in the Gaza Strip, said that the Palestinians and Arab and Islamic countries will judge the US on the basis of Obama’s policy toward them.
Bassam Salhi, the secretarygeneral of the Palestinian People’s Party, which was formerly called the Communist Party, said he was pessimistic about Obama’s second term in office.
Meanwhile, a tweet by Salman al-Oudah, one of Saudi Arabia’s most influential clerics, summed up the reaction of many in the Middle East to Obama’s reelection: “Obama isn’t good, but he is the lesser evil.”
After four years in which he largely kept Washington on the sidelines while the Arab Spring transformed the Middle East, Obama’s reelection was met with more relief than joy in a region that welcomed him in 2008 and still has bitter memories of his Republican predecessor George W. Bush.
There was cautious hope that he could reach a deal with Iran to defuse tension over its nuclear program, and prod Israel and the Palestinians closer to reviving the frozen peace talks. Above all, people said Obama was less likely than his Republican opponent Mitt Romney to start another war.
“Obama was the better choice,” said Cairo schoolboy Muhammad Gamal. “At least no war had happened in his four-year term.”
“We hate the policies of the US and Israel, but Obama’s policies are wiser. The only chance we have for the situation not to get worse was an Obama victory,” a Tehran filmmaker named Amin told Reuters via telephone.
Mira, a 32-year-old dissident Iranian journalist reached by telephone, said, “Romney seemed willing to take US foreign policy back to its Bush-era belligerent xenophobic milieu.”
The Middle East is hardly a region where any US president can expect effusive praise, but surveys showed that most people there wanted Obama to win, if only because of bitter memories of Bush and the widely resented war in Iraq.
“An Obama win was expected and he is the best at this stage,” said Cairo doctor Muhammad el-Sanusy. “Let us not forget that Romney is a little Bush.”
After coming to power in 2008 while promising to bring US troops home from Iraq, Obama quickly visited the Middle East, saying he wanted to re-engage with the region and soothe anger directed at the United States during the Bush years.
In 2009, four months into his first term, Obama told an enthusiastic audience in Cairo that he wanted to launch a “new beginning” in relations between the United States and countries in the Middle East.
His Republican challenger this time around, Mitt Romney, derided that visit as part of an “apology tour,” a tag rejected by the White House.
But if Obama’s first election was greeted warmly in the Middle East, his reelection four years later was met more soberly in a tumultuous region where the Arab Spring revolts have revealed the limits of US power to shape events.
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“I have the feeling that people in the region are not as enthusiastic as they were in 2008 about the whole American presidential campaign,” said Saudi political analyst Khaled al-Dakheel.
“There is a feeling that there is a marginal difference between the two regarding US policy on the Middle East, especially after the third debate, when they focused on foreign policy.”
On Iran, Obama initially offered unconditional talks with Washington’s old foe, but over the past year imposed harsh sanctions in conjunction with the European Union to try to force Iran to agree to abandon its nuclear program.
“Obama was a tough president for Iran’s hard-liners, because he exposed them as the problem. His... efforts to engage Iran accentuated Tehran’s internal divisions, and created greater international unity,” said Karim Sadjadpour, an associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.
But the US president, who was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize after less than a year in office, is hardly viewed across the Middle East as a peacenik.
In Yemen, where his administration helped push veteran autocrat Ali Abdullah Saleh from power, Obama is largely known for an aggressive and hugely unpopular campaign of drone strikes against al-Qaida militants.
“On behalf of Yemenis,” tweeted Yemeni blogger and journalist Afrah Nasser, “I urge Obama to leave our skies alone in the next four years.”