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To Many Palestinians, Obama Nobel Peace Prize Unjustified

By Luis Ramirez
09 October 2009

President Barack Obama has been credited for making the Israeli Palestinian peace process a priority at the start of his administration, unlike previous U.S. leaders. However, news that Mr. Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize got less than enthusiastic praise from Palestinians living under Israeli occupation.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas congratulated President Obama for winning the Nobel Peace prize, but the sentiments were not shared by many on the streets of Arab East Jerusalem Friday.

For Fauzi Abu Taieh, 45, a street vendor in the Old City, the results of Mr. Obama's work to bring peace to the Middle East have yet to be seen.

He says the only way Mr. Obama can deserve the prize is if he has made peace. He says to him, the U.S. leader has done nothing on the ground to bring peace to the people of this land.

Friday was a day of especially high tensions in Arab East Jerusalem, as Israeli police deployed by the thousands, preventing Muslim males under the age of 50 from entering the al Aqsa mosque, Islam's third holiest shrine. The measures were meant to prevent clashes like the ones that have broken out sporadically in the city for two weeks.

Even as Muslims faced off with police in Jerusalem's Old City, Mr. Obama's efforts to restart the peace process were in progress. His special envoy, George Mitchell, was on yet another visit to Jerusalem and the West Bank, meeting with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in the hope of bridging gaps and bringing both sides back to negotiations. So far, those efforts have yielded no visible results.

Mohamad Taha, 21, was among the thousands of Palestinians who tried to enter the al-Aqsa mosque, but he says police turned him away. Standing outside the walls of the Old City, he said he found the news of Mr. Obama's prize insulting. Peace, he says, has never been so far away and he says he does not trust Mr. Obama to stand by the Palestinians.

Taha says nothing concrete has been done to resolve the tension that he says is destroying the lives of people here. He says young people like himself cannot move freely, and he says it is difficult to work.

Mr. Obama enjoyed a burst of popularity among Palestinians after his June speech from Cairo, where he called for Israel to stop construction of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and recognize the right of Palestinians to have their own state. That popularity turned to disappointment among many Palestinians last month when he called on Israel to restrain - rather than stop - settlement growth.

Palestinians view the settlements as an obstacle to the creation of a viable independent state.

The Islamist Hamas faction that rules the Gaza Strip congratulated Mr. Obama, but called the award premature. A spokesman on Friday said the U.S. leader has made only promises of peace to the Palestinians while, in his view, siding with Israel.

President Obama's popularity among Israelis is generally low, due in part to the pressure that his administration has placed on Israel to curtail settlement expansion and the perception among many Israelis that he is pro-Palestinian.

Israeli President Shimon Peres congratulated Mr. Obama Friday with words of hope that Mr. Obama will help bring peace.

"Here in Jerusalem, the bells will ring again with a new hope and a feeling that there is a Lord in heaven and a believer on Earth and both of us can act together to move properly and determinedly to provide a new realit," he said. "So, President, I congratulate from the depth of my heart. You're proud and we're proud about you."

The words came despite remarks one day earlier by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who said that anyone who says it is possible to reach a comprehensive peace agreement in the coming years does not understand reality and is spreading illusions.

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