Obama's trip was punctuated by the usual stops a state visit to Israel entails -- Yad Vashem, Mount Herzl, and an Iron Dome missile battery. But his remarks regarding the peace process were anything but ordinary. "Let's not put the cart before the horse," said the U.S. president during his visit's first press event. "If the only way to even begin the conversations is that we get everything right at the outset ... then we're never going to get to the broader issue."
Many Palestinians took that comment to be a reversal of Obama's earlier position.
"When Obama was first elected, he made it clear that settlement building had to stop before we can go back to the negotiating table with the Israelis," said Tami Rafidi, a Fatah member who ran in the most recent local elections. "During his trip he basically told us to forget that position and to go back to talks even as settlements destroyed whatever is left of the two-state solution."
It is this bleak political atmosphere that set the tone for Obama's visit to the West Bank. The day before Air Force One touched down at Ben Gurion Airport, young Palestinians took to the streets of Ramallah, moving toward the presidential compound where Obama was due to meet Abbas the next day. They carried posters that played on his campaign slogans: "Obama: You promised hope and change, you gave us colonies and apartheid."
Looking to capitalize on the president's African-American heritage, Palestinians made various nods to the civil rights movement during demonstrations. In the West Bank city of Hebron, a handful of Palestinians, including Amro, donned masks bearing the faces of Obama and Martin Luther King Jr. while they marched towards Shuhada Street, a segregated area of the city that has been off-limits to Palestinians since 1994, after a settler killed Palestinian worshippers at the nearby Ibrahimi Mosque. The protesters, who were clad in T-shirts bearing King's famous words, "I have a dream," were eventually arrested by Israeli security forces.
Abbas himself even presented Obama with an awkward portrait of the American president with Abraham Lincoln, hoping the analogy between the abolition of slavery and the Palestinians' current plight would sink in.
Though Obama paid lip service to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, the trip's focus seemed to be on other pressing issues: Syria, Iran, and Turkey. From the outset, Palestinians had no illusions as to why -- out of 50 hours spent between Israel and the West Bank -- less than four were allocated to talking and interacting with Palestinians.
"Obama's trip was merely a PR stunt to put him squarely in the Israel supporters camp," said Sam Bahour, a notable Palestinian-American entrepreneur. "Some might say he was trying to position himself to make a bold step towards peace in the future; I don't buy it. I think the U.S. took sides on this conflict a long time ago, 11 minutes after Israel was created, to be exact. Why would this president change that?"