Obama to bring an ‘urgent’ peace agenda on Israel visit, ambassador says
JERUSALEM – President Obama will bring an “urgent” peacemaking agenda to Israel on his upcoming visit, focusing on the region and the resumption of talks between Israel and the Palestinians, U.S. Ambassador Dan Shapiro said Wednesday.
Shapiro spoke a day after the White House announced Obama will visit Israel, the West Bank and Jordan in the spring, at the beginning of both his second term in office and also at the start of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s third term. Obama’s previous term in office saw relations with Netanyahu deteriorate in part over failed talks with the Palestinians but also due to the two leaders’ different world views. The visit will be Obama’s first as president to the staunch U.S. ally.
Shapiro gave several interviews to Israeli media Wednesday morning with the same message.
“We have a very urgent agenda,” Shapiro told Army radio. “We have a very complex agenda about Iran, Syria and the need to get Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table, so it’s important to begin as fast as possible,” he said.
The White House has not released the date of Obama’s trip or details about Obama’s itinerary, but Israel’s Channel 10 reported it had been scheduled for March 20. The visit raises expectations that peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, which collapsed about four years ago, can be rekindled.
Palestinians refuse to resume the talks unless Israel stops building in areas they claim for a future state. Israel says all issues, including territorial disputes, must be resolved through negotiations. It has frequently called for talks to be restarted.
Shapiro said that Obama will meet with the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank along with the King of Jordan, who has had a role in peacemaking efforts, during his visit.
“President Obama is not coming with conditions or demands. He is coming to confer with all our partners about problems and challenges we are dealing with in the region,” Shapiro told Israel radio.
Following reports that President Barack Obama’s trip to Israel next month could include a visit to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, the militant group Hamas warned that it would be a “diplomatic catastrophe” while local Muslim leaders moved to set restrictions on a possible presidential tour.
The Times of Israel reported that Hamas issued a statement saying that an Obama visit to the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the southern perimeter of the Mount would create “an imminent danger which the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Jerusalem have never faced.”Hamas went on to say that a visit by Obama to the disputed site, which it claims is under “Zionist occupation,” would be more dangerous than relocating the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.The Temple Mount, which is revered by both Jews and Muslims, is administered by the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf, a trust that has governed the site since the 12th century. The Waqf also issued a statement insisting that if the president does visit the site it must be for sight-seeing only and not for any political purpose. The trust also said no Israeli official would be allowed to accompany the president.For its part, the White House has so far given no indication the president actually plans to visit the Temple Mount.