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Obama UN speech sparks angry Palestinian protests

US President Barack Obama's speech to the UN General Assembly enrages Palestinians, with anti-US rhetoric prominent in protests

AFP and Reuters, Thursday 22 Sep 2011
U.S. President Barack Obama waves goodbye after addressing the 66th United Nations General Assembly at tbe U.N. headquarters in New York, Wednesday, (Reuters).
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Angry Palestinians on Thursday protested in the streets of Ramallah and Gaza after a UN speech by US President Barack Obama that was seen as unashamedly pro-Israel.

More than 1,000 Palestinians carrying signs denouncing Obama gathered outside the West Bank headquarters of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas before marching into the city centre shouting: "It's shameful for America to support the occupation."

And in Gaza City, around 300 women held a protest outside the UN headquarters, shouting anti-Obama slogans as Hamas security forces watched them without intervening.

Obama's address to the UN General Assembly, in which he reiterated his opposition to the Palestinian bid for UN membership, and empathised with Israel's struggle in a hostile region, without mentioning the occupation or Jewish settlements, has sparked almost unanimous condemnation across the Palestinian territories.

"America is the head of the snake," bellowed demonstrators in Ramallah as they held up signs deriding Obama for his address, in which he warned the Palestinians there would be "no short cuts" to peace.

"Shame on those who pretend to be democratic," read one placard as the throng marched to the city centre, where on Wednesday more than 15,000 people had gathered for a festival of support for the UN membership campaign.

The Palestinian Workers Union said it would call for rallies outside US embassies across the Arab world on Friday.

Commentators, politicians and ordinary people alike said Obama's speech, which came just two days before Abbas formally requests UN membership for a Palestinian state, proved Washington was incapable of serving as an impartial broker in matters related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"Obama's speech reflects the American bias towards the Israeli occupation and it proves that the continuing Arab and Palestinian bet on the Americans is wrong," said Sami Abu Zuhri, a spokesman for Gaza's Hamas rulers.

"We call for the adoption of a national Palestinian strategy based on self-reliance and the Arab and Muslim world in light of this American and Israeli arrogance."

Commentators in the three main Palestinian newspapers all took the same angry and disappointed tone over the US president's remarks.

"Obama's speech ... was a disappointment to those who had been waiting for something new from him, provoking extreme outrage and anger," wrote Talal Okal in the Al-Ayyam daily, accusing the US leader of "deepening the bias towards Israel's narrative, positions and policies".

"What he offered in his speech goes so far as to show compliance with, and full acceptance of, the policies and narrative and desires of Israel," he said.

"He put the Jews and Israelis in the position of victims who are surrounded by hatred and wars against them by Arab countries, but this speech of his contained nothing of the suffering of the Palestinians."

Al-Ayyam newspaper carried a cartoon showing Obama delivering his address with a speech bubble in the shape of a Star of David coming from his mouth.

Writing in Al-Quds, the biggest-selling Palestinian newspaper, Arab Israeli MP Ahmed Tibi said Obama's speech had tried to cosy up to the wave of uprisings sweeping the region while completely ignoring the plight of the Palestinians.

"In the same speech in which Obama praised the uprisings and revolutions by the Arab people against tyranny and oppression, he declined to even mention Israel's occupation of Palestinian land," he wrote.

Similar complaints could be heard on the Palestinian street.

"When Obama came into the White House as president, his positions and aspirations gave us hope," said Mohammed Zeidan, a school director in Ramallah, who accused the US president of being "fair to every Arab country except the Palestinian people".

"But Obama showed the whole world yesterday that America cannot be anywhere but by Israel's side always, and he is no different from the American heads of state who came before him."

Obama told the United Nations on Wednesday there was no substitute for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. "Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the UN. If it were that easy, it would have been accomplished by now," he said.

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