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22 Sep, 2009 05:14

Foreigners trapped between Israel and Palestinian autonomy

Foreigners married to Palestinians have found themselves trapped under new Israeli regulations that force them to obtain Palestinian IDs, making it tougher to leave the region.

Many blame Barack Obama for not effecting change in the Middle East.

Bettye Najjab is panicking. She’s got a deal on an airline ticket and was planning to fly back to America next month. But that was before she realized new Israeli regulations mean the stamp in her passport does not allow her to leave the West Bank and cross into Israel to get to the airport.

Bettye is an American citizen married to a Palestinian. She now regrets voting for Barack Obama, as she thinks he's short-changed the Palestinians.

“I wish Obama had done something immediately when his popularity was so very high. He could probably at that time have begun something and got away with it,” Bettye says.

At least 120,000 foreigners with ties to Palestinians are in the same situation. For twelve years, Anita, who is from Switzerland, was able to live with her Palestinian husband, Ghassan, in Ramallah by renewing her Israeli tourist visa every three months.

But the new regulations mean she too has been denied entry into Israel. And the only way she can continue living in the West Bank is to get a Palestinian ID – and lose the advantages of being a foreigner.

“There were lots of privileges I now don’t have. I was driving in an Israeli number plate car; I could travel through the Israeli airport – it was easier, it was a lot easier. Plus being treated not as a Palestinian is different,” Anita Abdullah told RT.

For her husband, staying in Ramallah brings a sense of home – which he has not been used to for decades.

“I was like a professional refugee for more than 40 years and it would be nice to go back to a place where you feel not quite home, but at least something. So here we don’t feel like strangers,” Gassan says.

But the Israeli government would prefer the Abdullahs to leave. And is intent on making life difficult for the Palestinians despite heavy criticism from America.

When Barack Obama was elected in January, most Palestinians were full of hope and expectation. But since then his popularity has declined with most of them, believing he has very little to offer that will be different to previous American administrations.

Palestinians see Obama as losing his grip on their demand for Israel to freeze settlement expansion.

“We will see that Obama is giving in to the Israeli tough position. He is not sticking to his position that Israel must totally freeze all settlement activities,” said Ziad Abu Zayyad, Former Palestinian Minister of Jerusalem Affairs.

So when the Israeli and Palestinian leaders meet, no one is holding their breath that Obama will achieve much.

“I don’t think the Americans are under an illusion that if the Israel-Palestinian conflict would be solved, many other tensions in the Middle East would be solved. But it gives the impression of greater stability. And images are sometimes important,” believes Professor Hillel Frish from the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and US President Barack Obama are holding talks on Tuesday in New York. This is the first time Mahmoud Abbas and Benjamin Netanyahu will have met since the Israeli elections in February.

Both leaders have warned not to expect too much – and people on the ground don’t.