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Middle East

What's in it for us? Gazans react to Obama's West Bank visit

media US President Barack Obama Reuters/Jason Reed

US President Barack Obama makes first presidential visit to Jerusalem and Ramallah, on the West Bank, on 20-21 March. Yet, while this visit is his first to Palestinian-held territory, he will not be visiting  the Gaza Strip, where residents have mixed feelings about Obama’s visit.

While it seems as though no-one in Gaza is unaware of Obama’s visit to Ramallah, opinions on what this means for the coastal enclave are wide-ranging.

It was always unlikely that Obama would ever visit Gaza, whose de-facto government is run by Hamas, classed as a terrorist organisation by the United States.

Dossier: Gaza 2009

Sitting in an office in Al Quds University in Gaza City, student Mavliv Jamzel Tarazi says she is hopeful about the symbolism of Obama’s visit:

“If Obama visits Ramallah or even Gaza and it helps to inspire people and benefit their lives, then I’m in favour of it,” she tells RFI.

Another Al Quds student, Yasmeen Al-Naggar, argues that if Obama wished to visit Gaza, he could.

 “I hope that he would come here and see things for himself - the destruction after the wars in 2009 and 2012, or the situation in the refugee camps or just in general: how we live,” she says.

Yet, with a scheduled 40 hours in Jerusalem compared to three in Ramallah, this visit is unlikely to bring benefits to either the West Bank or to Gaza, Al-Naggar believes.

 “Whether he came to Ramallah or not, it makes no difference. Three hours for lunch in Ramallah is not going to change anything.”

Nonetheless, some retain hope in the potential for Obama’s visit. Al Quds professor  Ashraf Abu Nada says the visit represents an opportunity to call into question Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank:

“America is the only country that can put pressure on Israel," he believes. "Israel refused many UN decisions on the Palestinian issue and no country can put pressure on Israel, only America. That’s why we think America is the most important country in the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.”

While Obama’s visit could mean progress for the issues most affecting those in the West Bank, there are concerns among Gazans that their problems will be overlooked.

“The problems that affect us as fishermen are constantly ignored by everyone, and I think that will be the same in this case," says fisherman Awjad Sadallah.

Like many of the Strip’s residents, he relies on the Gaza coastline for his income and is suffering the effects of the nautical blockade imposed by Israel following Hamas's seizure of power.

"The talks will focus on the issues that affect the West Bank, but not the problems that affect us here in Gaza, of which fishing is one of the most important,” he says.

“Obama didn’t even help the US. He didn’t even make any new decisions there. So how could he help the people in Gaza?" asks Gaza City journalist Maha Abualkass. "I’m sure that he won’t make anything for Palestinian people. It’s a kind of propaganda, that he saw that many presidents visited here, so he thought why not do the same thing.”

While it remains questionable whether any American president would ever visit Gaza while it is under Hamas control, some hope that Obama’s visit will draw attention to the issues affecting much of the Palestinian population. In terms of the issues exclusive to Gaza, however, it seems that few are optimistic.

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