Days after the Hamas government in Gaza warned US President Barack Obama against visiting the Temple Mount during his visit to Israel starting March 20, the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank demanded on Tuesday that Obama coordinate his Jerusalem tour with the PA, since the city, it claimed, is “occupied territory.”
Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Malki told Palestinian National Radio that coordination between the US and Palestinian governments is underway surrounding Obama’s visit to the West Bank, though the itinerary has not yet been finalized.
“Jerusalem is occupied Palestinian land and visiting it should be coordinated with the Palestinian side, with Palestinian attendance and participation,” Malki said.
Obama is set to visit Ramallah, to meet with PA President Mahmoud Abbas, for a few hours on March 21, and may also briefly go to Bethlehem on March 22.
A Palestinian grassroots group is planning demonstrations against expected American pressure to resume what it called “useless” negotiations.
“You are not welcome in Palestine,” read a meme on the Facebook page of Palestinians for Dignity, designed to resemble an immigration stamp in Obama’s passport.
Another satirical image on the page displays the US president as saying in Arabic, “American support for Israel is sacred and we must help it remain militarily superior.” An angry protester in a photo below responds in English, “this is a Welcome kiss from the Palestinian people, dog,” as he hurls a shoe at Obama, an Arab symbol of disdain.
The group called on Palestinians to take to the streets and protest the visit of an American leader “who considers Israel his closest ally in the region.” It also blasted the PLO for ignoring Obama’s role in thwarting the Palestinian bid for statehood at the UN Security Council in 2011 and voting against non-member status at the General Assembly last November.
Basem Ezbidi, a political scientist at Bir Zeit University near Ramallah, said that the Palestinians’ manifest frustration stems from Obama’s lack of vision on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. No one on the Palestinian street is expecting substantial change on the ground with regards to the peace process, he added.
“Palestinians are fully aware of the fact that during his second term in office Obama will focus on issues that may be considered ‘success stories’,” Ezbidi told The Times of Israel. “Our conflict is not within that context.”
Ezbidi said that Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad will likely make two main requests of the American administration: to pressure Israel into easing economic restrictions, namely the intermittent withholding of millions of dollars in tax revenues Israel collects on behalf of the PA; and exerting pressure on Israel to return to the negotiating table following a settlement freeze.
Obama is unlikely to deliver on either of these points, Ezbidi reasoned, given the new right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu.
Rumors that Obama intends to visit the al-Aqsa Mosque on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount persisted on Tuesday. In an op-ed titled “Receive Obama the way Sharon was received,” published Monday on Hamas’s news website Al-Resalah, columnist Mustafa Sawwaf called on Palestinians to confront “Zionists” on a daily basis ahead of Obama’s visit to the city.
“Palestinians everywhere should begin their activities with direct confrontation with the Zionists in preparation for Obama’s visit, even if this entails martyrs and injured [Palestinians] until the ominous day of the visit,” wrote Sawwaf.
“That should be the day of battle, the great day of mobilization worthy of the American president.”
Meanwhile, Hamas official Moussa Abu-Marzouq, deputy head of the movement’s political bureau, said on Tuesday that reconciliation talks with Fatah were suspended last week following an American threat to withdraw $450 million in funding for the PA if talks proceed.
Abu-Marzouq said that the United States had pressured the European Union to follow suit.