In his bestselling book, Senator Barack Obama describes interacting with ordinary Illinois citizens in a series of town meetings. He writes: "And sometimes someone will grab my hand and tell me that they have great hopes for me, but that they are worried that Washington is going to change me and I will end up just like all the rest of the people in power. Please stay who you are, they will say to me. Please don't disappoint us."
I'm not sure if the people of Illinois are disappointed by the performance of their Senator now President - the election in 2012 will give a clearer picture - but I am certain that the people in Palestine are disappointed by Barack Obama's speech at the United Nations. President Obama reiterated his recent position that the United States will veto any attempt to recognize Palestinian statehood in the U.N. Security Council. "Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the U.N.," he said.
Were the Palestinians justified in expecting more from President Obama? Flashback to his Cairo speech of June 4, 2009: "So let there be no doubt: the situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own." Flashback to his speech to the United Nations General Assembly of September 23, 2010: "We should reach for what's best within ourselves. If we do, when we come back here next year, we can have an agreement that will lead to a new member of the United Nations: an independent, sovereign state of Palestine, living in peace with Israel."
The election of Barack Obama was an extraordinary moment in American history. Outside the United States as well, it raised enormous expectations. His speech in Cairo was a reaching out to the Muslim world following the divisions resulting from September 11. His message was received with the hope of those citizens in Illinois who attended his town meetings. The audacity of hope was for real change from the status quo, a real transformation from business as usual, including the realization of Palestinian statehood.
In his words and person Barack Obama led many to believe that things would be different if he were elected president. For the people of Palestine there has been no change; negotiations between Israel and the PLO have stalled and there has been no movement on the promised statehood. When Barack Obama asks us to "reach for what's best within ourselves" he should do the same. The citizens of Illinois pleaded, "Please don't disappoint us". For the people of Palestine, he has done just that.