PA, Hamas hail Obama's message to Israel

Hamas expresses both optimism and doubt; PA: US leader's speech reflects ideal of "new beginnings."

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei iran 248 88 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei iran 248 88 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
Palestinians here expressed satisfaction with US President Barack Obama's speech in Cairo, while many Arabs and Muslims around the world voiced mixed feelings. The Palestinian Authority was the first to welcome Obama's statements as a "new and different start." Nabil Abu Rudaineh, a spokesman for PA President Mahmoud Abbas, termed the speech a "clear and frank message to the Israelis." He said the Palestinians were particularly satisfied with Obama's talk about the need to end the suffering of the Palestinians, halt settlement construction and establish a Palestinian state. "President Obama's readiness for partnership, listening, confidence-building and ending tensions is the first and basic step for just and comprehensive peace in the region," Abu Rudaineh said. "Israel must take Obama's words seriously." He added that the message Obama had sent to the Israelis in his speech was that they must choose between peace and continued tension. Chief PA negotiator Saeb Erekat hailed the speech as a historic event and said he expected the Obama administration to launch practical measures, including the deployment of observers on the ground, to impose the two-state solution. Erekat said he did not expect Israel to comply with Obama's demand to end settlement construction. "This call will fall on deaf ears in Israel," he said. "And this will be Obama's real test." Hamas also welcomed Obama's speech, although some of the movement's spokesmen appeared to be less enthusiastic. Spokesman Fawzi Barhoum welcomed what he called "Obama's calm tone." But, he continued, the speech was "full of contradictions and lacking in practical policies and steps to support Palestinian sovereignty on our land." Barhoum said Hamas was disappointed because Obama had not called for "respecting the legitimacy" of the Islamic movement - which, he added, had come to power in a free election. Rejecting Obama's call for recognizing Israel's right to exist, the Hamas spokesman said his movement would not accept the Quartet's conditions for dealing with the Hamas government: recognition of Israel, renunciation of violence and acceptance of all previous agreements signed between the Palestinians and Israel. "Recognition of Israel would mean giving legitimacy to the occupation," Barhoum explained. "It would also give Israel a cover for pursuing its aggression and crimes against our people." He also expressed regret that Obama did not "apologize" to the Arabs and Muslims for US policies and actions against their countries. The Hamas spokesman also criticized Obama for ignoring the Palestinian "right of return" to their original villages inside Israel. However, he welcomed Obama's opposition to continued construction in the settlements. Earlier, the Hamas government invited Obama to visit the Gaza Strip. The invitation was issued by Ahmed Yousef, a senior official with Hamas's Foreign Ministry. Yousef told Al-Jazeera television that the speech was reminiscent of Martin Luther King, Jr. in its vision - but that it would not make Hamas inclined to recognize Israel. "What he said about Islam was great. What he said about Palestinian suffering and a Palestinian state is great," Yousef said. But "we have a lot of reservations," he added. Palestinian political analyst Hani Habib said he saw Obama's speech as an indication of Washington's intention to embark on a more balanced and rational policy toward the Israeli-Arab conflict. "I think we are going to see something different from what we've seen from previous US administrations," he said. "The Obama administration's new policy is based on the assumption that the situation in the Middle East is closely linked to American interests." Habib said Obama's speech had left many Arabs and Muslims with the impression that it was possible to reconcile with a superpower that had waged a hostile campaign against them for a long time. Ordinary Palestinians here and elsewhere in the PA territories also had mixed feelings about the speech, although many welcomed what they believed was the beginning of real change in Washington's "bias" in favor of Israel. Many also praised Obama for displaying respect for Islam and Muslims. "I felt as if I was listening to a speech delivered by the president of an Islamic state," said university student Ala Safwan. "This is the first time that we hear an American president say good things about Islam." Other Palestinians said that while they felt deep satisfaction with Obama's speech, they were waiting to see if he would follow up and take "real steps" to bring about a Palestinian state. "Obama said many good things in support of the Arabs and Palestinians, but that's not enough," said shopkeeper Walid Hamayel. "Only the future will tell if Obama is serious about the two-state solution." Throughout the Arab and Islamic world, many also seemed to approve of Obama's "new and balanced" policy toward the Middle East conflict. Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa described the speech as "fair and balanced" and called on Israel to comply with Obama's call for peace. "This speech lays the foundations for a positive relationship between the US and the Arabs and Muslims," he said. "I believe that Obama's talk about peace is directed toward Israel, and that's why the Israelis must comply." Egyptian dissident Ayman Nour said that the speech was "actually better than we expected, but not as good as we hoped." He said Obama's position on democracy was "very general, a bit weak. We hoped for more detail." Muslim leaders expressed cautious optimism over Obama's speech, saying they were expecting "deeds and not only words." The mufti of Syria, Ahmed Hassoun, was quoted by a German news agency as expressing his gratitude to Obama for being "fair toward the Muslims." But, he added, "we want Obama to be clearer regarding our causes, and we thank him for his support for the Palestinians." AP contributed to this report.