Palestinian Hopes for Barack Obama

RAMALLAH – President-elect Barack Obama’s defiantly positive campaign for change has inspired hope not only in the millions of Americans who voted for him, but also in the billions of others worldwide who could not. Across the Middle East, as elsewhere, expectations are building that his presidency will herald a new era for America’s role in the world.

Palestinians identify strongly with the civil rights movement in the United States. Many recall the dark days when American society enforced racial segregation. That the same society elected an African-American president only a few decades later renews Palestinian hopes that, in our ongoing struggle for justice and freedom, we, too, shall overcome.

Obama’s electoral triumph arrives at a symbolic moment in Palestinian history. This month marks the twentieth anniversary of the Palestinian Declaration of Independence. Drafted by the poetic hand of my late friend, Mahmoud Darwish, the text is nothing short of visionary. Whereas previously the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) had campaigned for a single, secular, and democratic state across the entirety of mandatory Palestine, our Declaration of Independence endorsed a two-state solution.

The depth of this compromise can be fully appreciated only in its historical context. In the war and violence that surrounded Israel’s establishment in 1948, our losses were immense. Over 726,000 Palestinian Christians and Muslims – the majority of the Arab population of mandatory Palestine – fled or were forced to leave their homes by Zionist militias. Over 400 Palestinian villages in what became Israel were destroyed or depopulated.