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MIDDLE EAST: Among Arabs, disappointment over Obama's visit

July 24, 2008 |  8:23 am

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Sen. Barack Obama’s declarations in Israel yesterday left many Arab observers sour and doubtful that the presidential candidate could bring change in U.S. policy on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Some Arab newspapers commented angrily over Obama’s description of Israel as a “miracle” and his justification for the summer 2006 Israeli attack on Hezbollah as the Jewish state’s “right to defend itself."

The Arab nationalist, Beirut-based Assafir newspaper, for instance, criticized Obama’s “bias” toward Israel and printed a front-page photo, above in lower right of page, of him wearing a Kippah and solemnly laying flowers by a Jewish memorial in Jerusalem:

The democratic candidate for the U.S. presidency seemed very far yesterday from the line of moderation and change that he claims as his. He revealed, in Jerusalem and Sderot, a new political bias regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, supplemented with the flattering of the leaders of Israel, which he called a “miracle”. [He] did not show enough attention to the peace process and was even about to ignore the Palestinian leaders whom he quickly met in Ramallah.

The London-based, Saudi-owned pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat praised Obama for at least meeting with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas:

In contrast to the Republican candidate, John McCain, Obama’s visit included Ramallah, where he met the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. But he avoided visiting the tomb of the late Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, like the other U.S. officials. He also avoided holding a press conference fearing he would be asked embarrassing questions such as his attitude about the Israeli activities that are obstructing the peace process like settlements, the [separation] wall, invasions and military check points.

Some Arabic newspapers were more enthusiastic about Obama’s visit to the Middle East.

The pan-Arab daily Asharq Al-Awsat published an opinion piece today entitled “Barack Obama will change America and be understanding of the world’s problems." The piece said that Arabs in Europe and the region have favorable views of Obama.

The English-language Abu-Dhabi-based daily The National said in an editorial today that Obama could bring positive change to U.S. foreign policy, but within limits:

What we have heard from Obama is an interesting mix of conservatism and change.... After his much-criticised AIPAC speech, in which he said Jerusalem would remain Israel’s undivided capital, he showed empathy for the plight of the Palestinians.... But too high expectations today are likely to be met with bitter disappointment in a few months. Even a U.S. president with qualities such as Obama’s has to deal with structural realities that take years, even decades to change.

Obama just ended a Middle East tour which included Kuwait, Iraq, Jordan, Afghanistan, Israel and the Palestinian territories, and moved on to Berlin for visits to European capitals.

- Raed Rafei in Beirut.

Photo: Today's front page of the Lebanese daily Assafir, showing a photo of Obama at a Jewish memorial in Jerusalem. Credit: Raed Rafei / Los Angeles Times

P.S. The Los Angeles Times issues a free daily newsletter with the latest headlines from all over the Middle East, as well as the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. You can subscribe by registering at the website here.

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