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Israelis, Palestinians Disappointed after Obama's First Year in Office

  • Robert Berger

A year after U.S. President Barack Obama took office, the Middle East peace process has faltered and there is broad disappointment in the Obama administration among both Israelis and Palestinians.

When President Barack Obama took office a year ago, he vowed to make the Middle East peace process a top priority. He appointed Mideast envoy George Mitchell, and there was talk of achieving an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement in two years.

But after 11 visits to the region by Mitchell, the United States has failed to coax Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table.

Yoram Ettinger, a former Israeli diplomat in Washington, says the Obama administration got off on the wrong foot when it demanded a complete freeze on Jewish settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. He says Mr. Obama coddled the Arabs while heaping pressure on Israel. "This is an administration which considers the Arabs are part of the exploited, third world. And that leads to a very obvious conclusion that as far (as) the administration is concerned, Israel has to make sweeping concessions. That's bad news for Israel," he said.

The Palestinians were encouraged by U.S. pressure on Israel and by President Obama's landmark speech to the Muslim world in Cairo in June. So following the American lead, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas refused to resume peace talks until Israel imposed a complete freeze on settlement expansion. But the U.S. was only able to coax hawkish Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu into a partial freeze, and now the Palestinians say Mr. Obama has failed to deliver.

Nabil Jakaman is a merchant in the biblical town of Bethlehem in the Palestinian-ruled West Bank. He says President Obama, like his predecessors, is unwilling or unable to end the Israeli occupation. "Well, he started good but now he goes back. You know, presidents they don't care for people. And I'm disappointed he doesn't do anything for Palestinians," he said.

The disappointment among Israelis and Palestinians was reflected in an interview President Obama gave to "Time" magazine: He admitted that his administration had not anticipated some of the political obstacles on both sides and had raised expectations too high.