Ramallah readies for Obama visit

Presidential contender to visit region next week; PA now satisfied with candidate's "balanced stance."

obama 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
obama 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Palestinian Authority officials on Monday welcomed Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama's plans to visit Ramallah next week, saying they would brief him on the situation in the PA territories and the status of peace talks with Israel. The officials, however, warned that Obama's meeting with PA President Mahmoud Abbas, slated for July 23, did not mean that the Palestinians favor Obama over his Republican rival John McCain. "The Palestinians don't interfere in the internal affairs of the US," a top PA official told The Jerusalem Post. "Obama's visit to Ramallah does not mean that we have endorsed him." Another PA official said that the Palestinian leadership was "quite excited" about the candidate's visit to Ramallah. "This visit shows that the man is interested in the Middle East," he said. "President Abbas will brief him on the general situation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the status of the peace talks with Israel." The PA officials expressed hope that the next US administration, regardless of who's elected as president, would place the Israeli-Arab conflict at the top of its agenda. "Without US involvement, the peace process can't move forward," they stressed. "The next US administration must exert pressure on Israel to halt its policy of settlement construction and remove all restrictions on the Palestinians." The PA officials also expressed satisfaction with Obama's recent statements regarding the status of Jerusalem. Earlier this week, Obama clarified his recent call for supporting Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel. "You know, the truth is that this was an example where we had some poor phrasing in the speech, and we immediately tried to correct the interpretation that was given," Obama told CNN. "The point we were simply making was, is that we don't want barbed wire running through Jerusalem, similar to the way it was prior to the 1967 war, that it is possible for us to create a Jerusalem that is cohesive and coherent. I was not trying to predetermine what are essentially final-status issues." Obama said during a speech in June to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee that if he is elected president, "Jerusalem would remain the capital of Israel and it must remain undivided." Commenting on Obama's latest remarks, the PA officials described them as "very positive." They said that by "correcting" himself on the issue of Jerusalem, Obama "displayed sensitivity and a balanced stance." In another development, the PA negotiating team with Israel is scheduled to head to Washington Tuesday for talks with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Chief PA negotiator Saeb Erekat said he and his colleague, Ahmed Qurei [Abu Ala], would brief Rice on the latest developments in the peace talks with Israel. He said the PA delegation was planning to highlight the main obstacles hindering an agreement, including the policy of settlements and Israel's security measures. Erekat revealed that Abbas and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert were scheduled to meet in Jerusalem in 10 days to continue discussions over final-status issues.