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Electing Obama Sends Message To The World

RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

On his first day in the Oval Office, President-elect Barack Obama will face the two issues that have faced every new president for decades, the Middle East and Russia. Only today the Russians backed up their hostile rhetoric towards the U.S. with news that they're going to build a new missile site on the Polish border to confront the U.S. missile defense system. More on that in a moment. But first let's hear how Israelis and Palestinians have reacted to last night's election result. Here's NPR's Eric Westervelt.

ERIC WESTERVELT: A 42-year-old taxi driver, Abdul Karem, had a spring in his step and a smile on his face as he grabbed his morning coffee at the Stars and Bucks Cafe, the Palestinian Starbucks knockoff in downtown Ramallah. Abdul Karem was deeply skeptical until today that the United States would ever elect an African-American to the nation's highest office.

MONTAGNE: (Through translator) The American people sent a very great message to the world today. They did not discriminate between white and black. Even whites in the United States voted for Obama regardless of his color. The American people want change.

WESTERVELT: Other Palestinians here called it an incredible moment. Dr. Mustapha Barghouti is an independent Palestinian lawmaker. Barghouti said he hopes Obama will do what President Bush did not, build a substantive peace process that changes facts on the ground.

D: I think he has great potential to make a difference and then make a change. A two-state solution is at stake here. And if he doesn't move quickly, we could see the disappearance of that possibility.

WESTERVELT: In West Jerusalem, Israelis reacted with a mix of optimism and caution. At a cafe, Erez Goldman, a dual U.S.-Israeli national, voiced skepticism. He called Obama untested and inexperienced.

MONTAGNE: I'm very worried, very worried, because I don't know who's surrounding Obama, and I have no idea what his plans are for the Middle East. He says he's going to talk to Hamas, he's going to talk to Iran, he's going to do - who knows? We're going into the unknown, and that worries me.

WESTERVELT: But Israeli architect Yoram Fogel said he thinks Obama will finally move the peace process forward.

MONTAGNE: Something special and something different is going to happen now. The whole normal things that we are used to it, daily politics is going to be changed from now on. It's a new world. I love it.

WESTERVELT: Eric Westervelt, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Eric Westervelt is a San Francisco-based correspondent for NPR's National Desk. He has reported on major events for the network from wars and revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa to historic wildfires and terrorist attacks in the U.S.