Small expectations of drop-in President
Four reports on Palestinian attitudes to President Obama’s visit this week. 1) Ma’an; 2) Mondoweiss; 3) Ma’an news; 4) Time.
By Ma’an news
March 19, 2013
BETHLEHEM — Palestinian activists in Bethlehem tore down a billboard of US President Barack Obama on Monday.
The billboard was set up in Bethlehem’s Manger Square as part of a campaign to highlight that Palestinians have been deprived of the right to have 3G telecommunication technology because they compete with Israeli companies.
The activists, representing a cross-section of political parties, civil society organizations and the families of prisoners, tore down the poster and trampled on it, before unveiling a banner reading: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman degrading treatment or punishment.”
The Palestinian Authority had earlier said it would not object to protests against Obama’s visit if organizers obtain permission beforehand, and a Ma’an reporter said there were no PA security forces in Manger Square at the time of the demonstration.
“In light of the anti-Palestinian US position, Obama is a persona non grata in Bethlehem,” Munthir Amira, chairman of a youth center in Aida refugee camp, told Ma’an.
“The US administration should realize that part of the Palestinian people’s suffering results from the US pro-Israel and anti-Palestinian policies.
“It is time the US administration understands that the question of Palestine is the core of conflict in the region. Without a just solution to the question, there will be no stability in the region.”
Obama is scheduled to arrive in the region on Wednesday and will meet President Abbas in Ramallah before visiting the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem on Friday.
US army helicopters landed in both Ramallah and Bethlehem on Monday in preparation for security arrangements ahead of the visit.
The mood of Palestinians is generally skeptical regarding the visit, with activists and youth groups calling on the Palestinian public to join Ramallah demonstrations on Tuesday against the US administration’s pro-Israeli policies.
Palestinians have low hopes of Obama’s brief, and token, visit to the PA. Still they hope to catch his eye with the point that in the internet age those living in Israeli proper have 3G for their smart phones, those in the Palestinian territories don’t.
Palestinians in Ramallah make light of President Obama’s short stop in the West Bank during his trip to Israel this week.
By Allison Deger, Mondoweiss
March 18, 2013
Despite some fanfare over President Barack Obama’s upcoming three-hour visit to Ramallah during his three-day long trip to Israel, Palestinians in the de facto capital of the West Bank are for the most part nonplussed with the diplomatic tour.
Last week I asked Palestinians who live and work in Ramallah what they think about the upcoming visit and their responses ranged from blasé to outright disappointment. While the president has seemingly added Ramallah to his itinerary as a good will gesture, the Palestinians I spoke with felt the Presdent’s decision to only meet with political leadership during his very short visit was not enough.
In fact all the four respondents rebuked the notion that President Obama has an interest in the well being of the Palestinian people. All of them stated that his policies already indicate Israel is the U.S.’s ally in the region.
Nadia, 29, works at an investment bank:
“I am very disappointed!
Palestinians were very strong supporters for President Obama when he was first elected. We are very optimistic in particular when he promised that he would work hard to make sure that Palestinians get an independent state. However, he did not keep his promise, and his visit to Israel reflects his strong support to the Israel with no consideration to Palestinian suffering. His visit has nothing to do with finding a solution to the conflict, I believe he is visiting as a tourist and his visit schedule reflects this fact! I was hoping that he would be a bit more neutral towards the conflict but this visit shows that he is standing on the Israeli side! Despite all the Israeli violations, ongoing occupation, illegal settlement activity, aggression against Palestinian people, President Obama is sending a clear message that Israel is a friend and ally, and Palestinians are the last thing on his agenda! I am asking President Obama to reconsider his position, to listen to us, to our suffering, concerns and dreams. I am asking him to visit Palestine, to visit refugee camps, to meet youth and women! I am asking him to help us make our dream come true; end the occupation and build a civilized, liberal, independent Palestine! I am asking him to put real pressure on the Israeli government to stop its violations against us!”
Jumana, 30, development assistant, member of Palestinians for Dignity who are expected to organize a demonstration during President Obama’s West Bank visit:
We don’t expect anything good happening from Obama’s visit to occupied Palestine. Obama has wholeheartedly expressed his strong commitment to the security of Israel. In fact the US successive administrations have not been honest brokers for peace in the Middle East. The Oslo peace process which was signed 20 years ago have brought nothing to the Palestinians but more prisoners, more illegal Israeli settlers, whose numbers have increased to more than twice as many as 200,000 settling in the occupied Palestinian territories. The U.S. Congress has pledged $3.1 billion in military aid to Israel for the year 2013 alone including to financing the Iron Dome system.
Obama’s visit comes at a time when Palestinian prisoners are waging a hunger strike for freedom and dignity, however he aims to relieve the pressure on Israel at this moment and to pander to the current Israeli government, which is suffering some international and diplomatic isolation. This visit also aims to prolong the life of the Palestinian Authority, which is becoming more disconnected from its people after 20 years of the futile negotiations and Oslo agreement. We therefore call for supporting the boycott of Israel in the security, economically, politically, culturally, and academically.
Noticeably a few of the respondents mentioned the on-going Palestinian prisoner hunger strike movement inside of Israeli prisons. Since last fall when the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) gained non-member observer status at the United Nations, protests have mounted against the civil administration—sometimes over the hunger strikers. There are currently twelve long-term detainees fasting against Israeli imprisonment. Their call for Palestinians to join them and demonstrate has been well received across the West Bank. So while on a diplomatic level the PA is discussing returning to direct negotiations with Israel, albeit with a settlement freeze, Palestinians on the ground from the cities to small villages are in a period of increased organized dissent.
Ahmad Abuquake, 22, vendor in the Ramallah outdoor fruit and vegetable market:
What are you doing in Palestine Obama? What do you want? I wish America could help make peace with Israel. I wish that you knew Palestinian are being killed—our children and women. We hope that you can help us, help Palestine get rid of the apartheid wall, and checkpoints. And finally we wish to free Jerusalem so it may be the Palestinian capital. But we know that you are supporting Israel. And so we say to you welcome, and freedom to all prisoners in the Israeli jails.
Samir Habash, 26, works for an NGO part-time:
It’s pointless. It reminds me of a story of a man who went to a rabbi to complain about his living situation. The rabbi had the man bring all the animals he owned into his house. Then when his life got worse, the rabbi told the man to take out the animals one by one. After all of the animals were back to their outdoor enclosures the man was happy. But at the end of the story, nothing has really changed for this man’s life.
This is very similar to our situation. People come and go but nothing really changes. It’s just keeping up appearances.
The gap between the political aspirations of the leadership versus the people will likely erupt in demonstrations during President Obama’s trip to Ramallah. The tensions on the ground with both the PA and Israel can certainly be felt in these comments from Ramallah.
By Ma’an news/Reuters
March 19, 2013
JERUSALEM — US President Barack Obama will embrace Jewish history while skirting the morass of West Bank settlements when he visits Israel this week – a selective itinerary laden with diplomatic signals.
The tour, running from Wednesday to Friday, is meant to warm Israelis to the cool-tempered, second-term Democratic leader who is prodding their rightist prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to hold fire on Iran and make way for a Palestinian state.
Some in Israel smart at the fact Obama took this long to visit and that in a speech in Cairo in 2009, he appeared to argue that the legitimacy of Israel stemmed from the Holocaust rather than an attachment dating back to the Bible.
Obama will pay his respects at the grave in Jerusalem of Theodor Herzl, the Zionist visionary who died more than four decades before the 1948 founding of Israel. Reaching back further, he will view ancient Jewish parchments at Israel’s main museum.
Known as the Dead Sea Scrolls, they were discovered in the West Bank – today occupied by the Israelis, who see the land as their biblical birthright. The United States says the land should be part of an independent Palestine.
Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, said that the scrolls were “written 2,000 years ago by Jews, in Hebrew, in their homeland, the Land of Israel”.
Obama’s viewing of them will convey a message to the world Israel’s deep roots in the Middle East.
“This is not a country that fell out of the sky after the Holocaust. This is a country that is truly rooted in the region, and it is permanent and it is legitimate,” Oren told Israel’s Channel Two television.
In an interview with the same station last week, Obama recognized “the fundamental right of Israel to be secure as a homeland of the Jewish people, and its connection to the land”.
The United States, like most other world powers, has spoken out against Jewish settlements in the West Bank, which Obama suggested were hardening Palestinian hostility to Israel.
Students and street protests
Obama’s visit includes a meeting with President Mahmoud Abbas and a separate West Bank excursion to Bethlehem – both by helicopter, skipping over Israeli bulldozers, security barriers and military deployment in the territory.
Abbas told the Russia Today television station on Friday: “President Obama said several times he was against (Israeli) settlement…Israel has been making mistakes every day and no one has pointed the finger of blame at them.”
The helicopter hops will limit Obama’s exposure to ordinary Palestinians. Outraged at their stalled statehood drive, Palestinian protesters defaced scores of pictures of the US president during scattered street protests on Monday.
Wariness of heckling by pro-settler hawks also appears to have been behind Obama’s decision not to address the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.
Instead, he will speak to Israeli students on Thursday invited by the US Embassy – which excluded a university recently founded in the West Bank settlement Ariel.
Unlike when he last visited, as a US senator in 2008, Obama will not go to the Western Wall, Judaism’s most important prayer plaza. It is located at the heart of East Jerusalem, among lands Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war and which it annexed as its capital in a move never accepted abroad.
By tradition, worshipers and tourists alike leave notes in the cracks of the wall, a gesture Obama may want to avoid as Israelis and Palestinians try to divine US strategy. His handwritten goodwill meditation of 2008 was quickly prised out by onlookers and published in the media.
In tackling Iran’s disputed nuclear program, Washington wants more time for sanctions against Tehran to work and to avoid a unilateral Israeli military strike. But the United States’ extensive funding of Israeli missile defense systems like Arrow and Iron Dome show a strong commitment to Israel’s security.
Obama’s first port of call after landing in Tel Aviv will be a nearby Iron Dome battery.
By Mohammad Daraghmeh, AP/Time
March 17, 2013
RAMALLAH — President Barack Obama will find a disillusioned Palestinian public, skeptical about his commitment to promoting Mideast peace, when he visits the region.
Obama’s trip, beginning Wednesday, appears aimed primarily at resetting the sometimes troubled relationship with Israel. But winning the trust of the Palestinians, who accuse him of unfairly favoring Israel, could be a far more difficult task.
After suffering disappointments during the first Obama administration, Palestinians see little reason for optimism in his new term. The White House announcement that Obama will not present any new peace initiatives strengthened their conviction that the U.S. leader isn’t prepared to put the pressure on Israel that they think is necessary to end four years of deadlock in negotiations.
“Obama is coming for Israel, not for us,” said Mohammed Albouz, a 55-year-old Palestinian farmer. “Obama will come and go as his predecessors did, without doing anything.”
While Israel is preparing to give Obama the red-carpet treatment, there are few signs of excitement in the West Bank. Large posters of Obama hung in Ramallah last week were quickly defaced, and a small group of activists called “The Campaign for Dignity” plans on releasing black balloons into the air in a sign of mourning when Obama arrives.
Obama himself played a role in reaching the current deadlock, which stems in large part from disagreements over Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. The Palestinians claim both areas, captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war, as parts of a future state, a position that is widely backed internationally.
When Obama first took office, he strongly and publicly criticized the Israeli settlements, saying the construction undermines hopes for peace. “It is time for these settlements to stop,” Obama said in a high-profile address to the Muslim world delivered in Cairo just months after taking office.
When Benjamin Netanyahu was elected Israeli prime minister in early 2009, the Palestinians said they would not negotiate unless settlement construction was frozen. They were further emboldened by Obama’s tough stance.
Obama persuaded Netanyahu to impose a 10-month slowdown, but Palestinians did not agree to restart talks until the period was nearly over. When the Israeli moratorium expired several weeks later, Netanyahu rejected American appeals to extend the slowdown, and the negotiations collapsed.
Obama stopped pushing the matter, and talks have never resumed, and the Palestinians, viewing Obama as afraid to take on Israel’s allies in Washington, have few expectations now.
“What we are going to tell him behind closed doors is what we are saying in public. There is no secret that a successful peace process needs a complete settlement freeze,” said Nabil Shaath, a top adviser to President Mahmoud Abbas. “The Israelis are building on our land and claiming they want to negotiate with us about this land.”
More than 500,000 Israelis now live in settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. The Palestinians say the ever-growing settlements are a sign of bad faith and make it increasingly difficult to partition the land between two peoples.
Netanyahu maintains that negotiations must resume without preconditions, and the fate of the settlements should be one of the issues on the table. He notes that previous rounds of negotiations have gone forward without a construction freeze.
Obama will get a firsthand glimpse of settlements when he heads to the Palestinian city of Ramallah on Thursday. The 20-minute drive from Jerusalem passes by sprawling settlements that are home to tens of thousands of Israelis.
Obama is scheduled to meet with Palestinian leaders and visit a youth center. He plans to head to the West Bank town of Bethlehem the next day to see the Church of the Nativity, built on the site where Christian tradition says Jesus was born.
Netanyahu, who was re-elected in January, has said he will make a renewed push for peace in his new term. His new government, which takes office this week, is sending mixed signals.
On one hand, he has named former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, a political centrist who has good working relations with the Palestinians, as his chief negotiator. The biggest partner in his coalition, the centrist Yesh Atid Party, has demanded the new government make a serious attempt to restart talks.
At the same time, Netanyahu’s own Likud-Yisrael Beitenu bloc is dominated by hard-liners who oppose major concessions to the Palestinians. Another partner, the Jewish Home Party, is linked to the settler movement and would reject any attempts to freeze construction, much less hand over West Bank territory to the Palestinians.
Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said getting talks back on track will require a deeper and long-standing effort by the president and his new secretary of state, John Kerry, who is expected back in the region in April.
“We really hope that President Obama and Secretary Kerry can succeed in reviving a meaningful peace process, succeed in having Netanyahu saying the sentence that he accepts the two states in the 1967 borders,” Erekat said. “We don’t need new plans. We need commitment.”
The gaps between Israel and the Palestinians are just one of many obstacles. The Palestinians are also deeply divided between Abbas’ government in the West Bank, which favors a negotiated agreement with Israel, and the rival Hamas government in the Gaza Strip, which rejects peace with Israel. Hamas has controlled Gaza since expelling Abbas’ forces in 2007.Yehia Moussa, a senior Hamas official in Gaza, told the pro-Hamas “Felesteen” newspaper the Obama visit was meant to “cool down” the Palestinians “by giving empty promises that will assist with continuing the (Israeli) occupation.”
Hani Masri, a prominent Palestinian commentator in the West Bank, said the visit might lead to some movement.
“Most likely we are going to see some life in the negotiations,” perhaps a limited settlement freeze that forces Abbas to resume talks. “But such a process won’t lead to a peaceful settlement.”