GAZA CITY – As US President George W. Bush starts on Wednesday, January 9, a much-publicized visit to Israel and the occupied West Bank, besieged Gazans are watching from the sidelines, expecting nothing but another photo opportunity.
"Bush’s visit to the Palestinian territories doesn’t make any sense," Sumaya Zinedine, a teacher, told Agence France-Presse (AFP) on Tuesday, January 8.
"He is coming to fool the Arab countries by making them think that he is interested in the Palestinian cause," added the mother of four.
Bush’s visit to Israel kicks off a multi-leg weak-long tour that will also take him to Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
"Bush is coming after the occupation destroyed everything," said Ahmad Saadi, a 25-year-old civil servant.
"When (Bush’s predecessor Bill) Clinton came there was a certain confidence among the Palestinians and Israelis, which is not the case today," he added.
"During Clinton’s time there was hope."
Nine years ago a hopeful Gaza Strip became the first Palestinian territory visited by a US president when Clinton’s helicopter touched down at its new airport to a rapturous welcome.
Clinton came to Gaza five years after the launch of the Oslo peace process.
Gazans have little faith in Bush having a genuine desire to make peace in the Middle East before the end of his tenure in early 2009.
"Clinton was sincere and really wanted to solve the Palestinian problem," says Zinedine, the teacher.
"He (Bush) is lying, as he is only interested in embellishing the end of his mandate."
She says the solution does not lie with Bush.
"There will be no state if Fatah and Hamas don’t reconcile and if Gaza and the West Bank remain separated."
The White House describes the visit as a follow-up to the US-hosted Annapolis peace conference in November.
But experts contend that on the issue of Israeli-Palestinian peace Bush is unlikely to produce anything tangible after seven years of turning his back on the conflict.
They see Annapolis conference as a symbolic and ceremonial meeting with no real substance.
No sooner had the conference ended than Israel stepped up its plans for more settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.
It also upped military operations in the densely crowded Gaza Strip, killing nearly 100 people since late November.
"When Clinton came he gave us the impression that Gaza was an important Middle East state that merited a visit by the president of the world’s top superpower," recalls Abu Tareq Abu Diyyeh, a shop owner.
Ahead of Clinton’s visit in December 1998, Abu Diyyeh sold thousands of American flags and other trinkets from his shop in Gaza City.
Today his business is down and the only stars and stripes flags to be seen in Gaza are those that are burned at demonstrations by angry Gazans crippled and stifled by the US-led international aid freeze and Israeli blockades.
"Back then the economy was going really well," Abu Diyyeh remembers. "Today it just doesn’t exist."
(IslamOnline.net & News Agencies)