Officials say they hope the president can bolster hopes for peace prospects.
RAMALLAH, WEST BANK - Palestinian leaders are counting on President Obama’s visit to Israel this month to bolster peace prospects and help stem the frustration that has led to renewed violence, chief negotiator Saeb Erekat says.
“Take the element of hope from the minds of Palestinians and Israelis and you’re going to have disasters,” Erekat said at his office in Jericho, days after returning from preparatory talks in Washington. “We’ve been there before and we don’t want this to happen.”
The trip — Obama’s first to Israel as president — comes after a diplomatic stalemate that has eroded hopes for a peaceful resolution of the conflict. Recent episodes of violence have fueled calls for a new Palestinian uprising.
Any boost that Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, might get from hosting Obama will quickly dissipate unless it’s accompanied by a U.S. push against settlement expansion and new ideas for a peace agreement, said Mukhemer Abu Sada, a Palestinian political scientist at Al-Azhar University in Gaza City.
“The legitimacy of Mahmoud Abbas is deteriorating and the violence we’re starting to see again is an indication that people are growing impatient,” Abu Sada said. “Hosting Obama won’t help him for long if it’s not backed up by signs that a peace agreement is in the works.”
Clashes between Palestinians and Israeli troops have increased in the past month, galvanized by hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners and the death of a West Bank man in Israeli custody amid charges he was tortured. Israeli authorities said the man, Arafat Jaradat, 30, died of a heart attack and was not harmed after his arrest last month for throwing stones at soldiers.
Possible diplomatic tangle
Israelis warn that traveling to Ramallah will entangle Obama in the question of Palestinian statehood, which was endorsed by the U.N. General Assembly last November against U.S. objections.
An official welcome for the U.S. leader to the State of Palestine by Abbas may annoy Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and turn into ammunition for Obama’s critics in Congress.
“The Obama administration opposed the upgrade of the Palestinian Authority to the status of a non-member observer state in the General Assembly,” said Dore Gold, Netanyahu’s former ambassador to the U.N.. “Should the Palestinians elect to adopt a diplomatic protocol based on the results of that vote, it would put the Obama administration in an awkward position.”
Erekat said Palestinian leaders are determined to make sure Obama’s visit goes smoothly, but he declined to discuss specifics.