Palestinian Authority 'cautious' over Obama's visit

While Palestinians welcome news of a visit by US president Barack Obama to the region, they caution that any movement on the peace process hinges on Israel. Hugh Naylor reports from Ramallah

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RAMALLAH // Palestinians yesterday welcomed news of a visit by US president Barack Obama to the region this spring, but cautioned that any breakthrough in the peace process hinged on Israel.

The White House has confirmed Mr Obama will makes stops in Israel, the West Bank and Jordan during his regional tour, although it did not disclose details.

Mr Obama's first foray to Israel as president has raised expectations of renewed US-led peacemaking efforts after a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian talks during his first term collapsed three weeks after they started in 2010.

The Palestinians say they will not resume negotiations while Israel continues to build Jewish settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, land that the Palestinians hope will be part of their future state.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) said yesterday that they were hoping that Mr Obama's trip signalled a US policy shift in the region.

"We hope that President Obama's visit to the region is the beginning of a new US policy that will lead to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on the Palestinian lands occupied since 1967, in accordance with the international resolutions," said Nabil Abu Rudeina, spokesman for the PA president Mahmoud Abbas.

Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation's executive committee, welcomed the visit if it were "based on the right approach, not on more of the same. We lost four years of inaction and allowing Israel to pursue unilateralism and settlements to the point of reaching the edge of the abyss".

Mrs Ashrawi said Palestinians "see the US as complicit in allowing the Israelis to go as far as they have" in constructing settlements.

Dan Shapiro, the US ambassador to Israel, yesterday told Israel's army radio that the president was bringing an "urgent" agenda for peace and other pressing issues in the region, including Iran and turmoil in Syria.

Jay Carney, a White House spokesman, on Tuesday described Mr Obama's visit as reaffirming the "enduring bonds between the United States and Israel".

The Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has irked the White House by championing settlements and backing Mr Obama's challenger, Mitt Romney, in last year's presidential race.

His right-wing party lost seats in the Knesset in last month's parliamentary elections, possibly opening a door for a more peace-minded coalition.

Mr Netanyahu's office described Mr Obama's visit as an opportunity "to underscore the friendship and strong partnership between Israel and the United States".

An emphasis on repairing US-Israeli ties suggests that Palestinian issues would be a secondary concern, said a member of the Fatah faction that Mr Abbas leads.

"None of us are expecting a change to the status quo," said the Fatah member. Low expectations of an end to Israel's occupation and a worsening financial crisis in the PA, he added, have instead encouraged Mr Abbas to turn to reconciliation with rival Palestinians in Hamas - considered a terrorist group by the US and Israel - and engaging multilateral organisations for diplomatic backing.

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