The Palestinian public has been notably unenthusiastic about President Barack Obama’s upcoming visit to the region.
“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 Palestinian cities. On the contrary, 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.
“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 freeze [on construction in Yehudah and Shomron],” said Nabil Shaath, a top adviser to PA President Mahmoud Abbas.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu insists that negotiations must resume without preconditions, noting that previous rounds of negotiations have gone forward without a construction freeze, and that when a freeze was implemented four years ago, the Palestinians still did not enter negotiations.
Obama is scheduled to meet with Palestinian leaders in Ramallah and visit a youth center there.
Former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman gave the Palestinians another reason to be unenthusiastic on Monday, as he expressed skepticism that Obama’s visit would have any positive effect on the peace process.
Speaking at a press conference to mark the swearing-in of the new government on Monday, Lieberman stated that “the Palestinian issue has not progressed in the past four years, and it will not progress in the next four years either.”
Asked what would have to happen for him to rate Obama’s visit a success, he said the fact that the U.S. president chose to make Israel the first foreign destination of his second term was a victory in and of itself.
Lieberman said that Israel would “emphatically oppose any attempt to reimpose a [construction] freeze [in Yehudah and Shomron].”
Meanwhile, a Yerushalayim court confirmed Monday that Lieberman’s trial was scheduled to end in mid-July, barring any unforeseen circumstances. If found innocent of corruption charges, Lieberman is expected to resume his post as Foreign Minister.