Babylon & Beyond

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ISRAEL, WEST BANK: Neither side expecting a major Obama effect

November 5, 2008 | 11:55 am


Everyone is intrigued.

But Israelis aren't exactly panicking and Palestinians aren't exactly dancing in the streets.

Both sides seem to accept that Barack Obama's ascension to the White House won't mean an immediate change either way in the Israeli-Palestinian dynamic.

Sam Bahour, a Palestinian-American living on the West Bank whose efforts to vote this year were chronicled in a previous post, said he was fielding congratulatory calls from Palestinian friends all day.

“I feel a buzz in the air,” said Bahour, who remains a little skeptical how much Obama will really shake up America's approach to the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

"I think I'm less excited than most," he said.

Some Israelis, mostly the under-30 crowd, were openly pro-Obama.

“I think it’ll be good for America and Israel actually,” said Dave Choukalas, A 28-year-old high school math teacher from Minnesota who moved to Israel four months ago.

Choukalas conceded that most Israelis don't share his views. Exit polls among absentee voters here showed John McCain dominating with 76% of the votes.

But despite months of speculation here that Obama would coddle Iran and tilt toward the Palestinians in peace talks, many Israelis seemed caught up in the enthusiasm of Obama's stunning rise. Israel’s Army Radio opened Wednesday morning by playing “Born in the USA” and “This Land Is Your Land.”

Notably, few Israeli politicians or pundits were predicting disaster for Israeli security under an Obama administration. Instead they seemed to move to reassure people that U.S. policy in the Middle East and support for Israeli would not change.

“The support is Israel is bipartisan and the concerns are exaggerated,” said former Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom.

Many here predicted that Obama would spend at least his first year in office grappling with America’s economic crisis and perhaps Iran, leaving little time to focus on the Israeli-Palestinian question.

“I expect neither our conflict with the Palestinians nor the Syria issue are his No. 1 priority, and perhaps not two or three either,” said Shlomo Ben-Ami, another former Foreign Minister.

-- Ashraf Khalil in Jerusalem

Photo: Palestinian shop owner gives a thumbs up while holding mugs for sale with pictures of US President-elect Barack Obama next to US and Palestinian flags at a souvenir shop in Gaza City on Wednesday. Credit: ADEL HANA / Associated Press

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