Most Palestinians hate Obama’; US president gets heated reception in West Bank
The two presidential choppers landed in the Palestinian presidential compound in Ramallah twenty minutes ahead of schedule. The force of their landing blew plumes of dust and litter over thin lines of ceremonial guards and bagpipers saluting the arrival.
By Phoebe Greenwood, Ramallah
5:55PM GMT 21 Mar 2013
John Kerry, the US secretary of state, hit the red carpet first, followed byBarack Obama. The welcome ceremony lasted five minutes, with time for only solemn-faced handshakes and a reedy rendition of the Star Spangled banner before presidential entourage disappeared into Muqata’a building. The red carpet rolled up promptly behind them.
The pageant of love Mr Obama has engaged in with Benjamin Netanyahu may have won over several Israeli hearts, but it may have caused considerable damage to his relationship with the Palestinians.
The first 24-hours of Obama’s visit was marked with early morning rocket fire from Gaza towards Sderot, violating ceasefire agreed with Israel in November.
In Ramallah, empty streets were dotted with truculent Palestinian soldiers deployed to prevent violent protest at the president’s visit. Ramallah’s major thoroughfare, running from the presidential compound to Qalandiya checkpoint, was lined with posters censored with black paint. Their slogans had read: “Mr President, don’t bring your smart phone to Ramallah, there is no 3G in Palestine!”
Just 100 metres away from the Muqata’a, a small crowd of angry demonstrators gathered outside a Kentucky Fried Chicken, contained by flanks of riot police. “Obama get out”, they chanted in the direction of the president.
“The right of return [for Palestinian refugees] is a red line,” an old man swathed in a keffiyeh yelled passionately.
Ahmad, 27, was nursing a broken arm having been shot with a rubber bullet by Israeli soldiers during a protest at Qalandiya checkpoint last Friday but supported the demonstrators.
“When he got the presidency, he said he would do lots for Palestine but he did nothing,” he explained. “Now Palestine is angry, as you can see. Most Palestinians hate Obama – he will only make more problems for us”.
On his last visit to the Middle East in 2009, Mr Obama had made a soaring speech in Cairo saying that the suffering of the Palestinian people was intolerable. “America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own,” he vowed then. But this is exactly what most Palestinians believe he has done.
Emerging from more than two hours of talks with the Palestinian leadership, Mr Obama squirmed on his podium next to Mahmoud Abbas when pressed on his position over Israeli settlements.
“Based on my conversations with both Mr Netanyahu and Mr Abbas, I believe the possibility exists for a two state solution,” he equivocated. Settlement expansion was not “appropriate or constructive”, he said, stopping short of stating the US government position that Israeli settlement construction is illegal.
“It’s important to continue with negotiations even if there are irritants on both sides,” he said.
“The core issue is how to get sovereignty for the Palestinian people and security for the Israeli people. That isn’t to say settlements are not important. But … I don’t want to put the cart before the horse.”
Hassan Mousa, 47, whose export business was forced to close due to the presidential visit, had no interest in hearing what Mr Obama had to say.
“It’s crazy this visit. All our business shut down for a whole day and for what? He may be the head of the most important country in the world but he is doing nothing for us as Palestinians,” Mr Mousa said. “He is a man who offered a lot but has delivered nothing.”