Palestinians gave a cool reception Tuesday to the performance of both US presidential candidates in their foreign policy debate, saying American standing in the Middle East would be doomed without a greater effort to resolve the festering Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Neither President Barack Obama nor Republican challenger Mitt Romney spoke much about the Israel-Palestinian conflict during Monday night's debate. Both men, however, took great efforts to voice support for Israel's security, in an apparent gesture to influential Jewish voters.
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Nabil Abu Rudaina, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said Tuesday that he understands that candidates are wary about discussing the sensitive conflict during an election season.
"But it should be clear to the United States that without solving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, there will be no success for American policy in the Middle East," he said.
The Palestinians have grown disillusioned with Obama, who took office promising great changes in the Middle East and taking a tough stand against Israeli settlements in disputed territories.
But Obama failed to persuade Israel to halt settlement construction, and substantive peace efforts have remained frozen throughout his term. The Palestinians have refused to return to the negotiating table without a settlement freeze, saying continued Israeli construction in what they hope to make an independent Palestinian state is a sign of bad faith.
At the same time, the Palestinians are deeply wary of Romney, who declared earlier this year that the Palestinians have "no interest whatsoever" in peace.
Romney's long friendship with hard-line Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his alliance with Jewish-American casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, a strong Netanyahu supporter, have further raised their suspicions.
When Romney visited Israel over the summer with Adelson, he set off a diplomatic firestorm by suggesting that Palestinian culture was inferior to Israel's.
Cameron Brown, a research fellow at Tel Aviv University's Institute for National Security Studies, noted that both men mentioned "Israel at every other breath, working it in any possible way ... even if it was only half-relevant."
The target audience, he said: Jewish voters, who are small in number but turn out to vote in disproportionally high numbers; Jewish donors and non-Jewish supporters of Israel, especially evangelical Christians.
During Monday's debate, the two candidates seemed to be trying to outdo each other in their support for Israel's security, mentioning the threats posed to the Jewish state by Iran and the civil war in neighboring Syria.
They also discussed the challenges created by the election of an Islamist president in Egypt.
Romney briefly criticized Obama's failure to advance Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts but gave no suggestions on how he would promote peace. It was the only time in the debate that the Palestinians were even mentioned.
"It was a sin of omission, and it was clearly the elephant in the room," said Hanan Ashrawi, a senior member of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
"They are talking about peace, stability, democracy, freedom and human rights, and they both didn't touch the Palestinian question which is the main issue in the region that's the key to peace and embodies the need for human rights and role of law and justice," she said.
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