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Palestinians Welcome Obama Election, Israelis Skeptical

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Many Palestinians in the West Bank are praising Barack Obama's election as the next U.S. president, saying he brings new hope for the stalled peace process.  Israelis, on the other hand, received the news with disappointment, expressing concerns that Mr. Obama may pressure Israel to concede too much in the peace negotiations.  VOA's Luis Ramirez reports from Jerusalem.

A Palestinian woman says she woke up to the news that Barack Obama had been elected, and she says it was news she welcomed.

She says that as a Palestinian woman, she sends her congratulations to Mr. Obama.  All of the past U.S. presidents, she says, have been the same and not one has supported the Palestinians.  But she says she hopes Mr. Obama will be better, and will be a leader who takes the Palestinian people's lives into account.

People in the West Bank have long felt alienated by U.S. policy, which has always supported Israel.  Many Israelis and Palestinians say the Bush administration's approach has been no exception.

Weighing on many is the frustration about the year-old U.S.-mediated peace negotiations that have made little visible progress. 

At a hotel in Ramallah, Maha Ibrahim, a 20-year-old university student, watches the election returns on a television screen at an election party hosted by the U.S. Consulate.  She says she hopes that Mr. Obama, as a black minority in a predominantly white country and as the son of a Muslim father, will be more sympathetic to the Palestinians.  But, she says, his spoken commitment to peace, and his calls for a pullout from Iraq, are what give her the most hope.

Ibrahim says Mr. Obama has stated clearly that he is against war and seeks peace.  She says this is crucial to her as a Palestinian.  In this respect, Mr. Obama will be more beneficial than the Republicans have been.

Political scientist Mohammed Dajani, of Al Quds University in Arab East Jerusalem, hosted Mr. Obama during a visit and was impressed by his charisma.

"He was able to actually inspire Palestinians who walked in as anti-Americans, yet he was able to keep the message that he had [and] he was able to win them over," he said. "So I feel he is someone who could inspire both antagonists or both conflicting parties, to be able to find a solutions, within his term, for the Arab-Israeli conflict."

Reaction to the news of Mr. Obama's victory was not so positive in Jewish West Jerusalem, where many Israelis saw John McCain as a stronger supporter of Israel.  This 67-year-old Israeli woman says she was born in Israel and has lived through several wars with Arabs.  She says Obama's willingness to engage Iran and his outreach to Palestinians makes her feel unsafe.

She says Mr. Obama's election presents a danger for Israel and a danger for America.

Not everyone in West Jerusalem is as pessimistic.  This Israeli man who asked not to be identified, says he is concerned about Mr. Obama's lack for foreign policy experience and his attitude toward Israel, but he says there is room for hope.

"There are a lot of questions," he said. "A lot of questions.  We will have to see.  If he is like any other politician, we should be a little bit scared, and a little bit hopeful for the future.  I was informed this morning that Bush at his inauguration was also known to be not a supporter of Israel and he came to be very good for Israel.  He stood up in many respects for Israel.  So, hopefully, Barack Obama will follow that."

A statement from Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said Israel expects that close cooperation with the new U.S. administration will continue, along with the strengthening of what she described as the special and unshakable relationship that exists between the two countries. 

 

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