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Obama’s visit includes a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and a separate West Bank excursion to Bethlehem - both by helicopter, skipping over Israeli bulldozers, security barriers and military deployment in the territory.
Abbas told the Russia Today television station on Friday: “President Obama said several times he was against (Israeli) settlement…Israel has been making mistakes every day and no one has pointed the finger of blame at them.”
The helicopter hops will limit Obama’s exposure to ordinary Palestinians. Outraged at their stalled statehood drive, Palestinian protesters defaced scores of pictures of the U.S. president during scattered street protests on Monday.
Wariness of heckling by pro-settler hawks also appears to have been behind Obama’s decision not to address the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.
Instead, he will speak to Israeli students on Thursday invited by the U.S. Embassy - which excluded a university recently founded in the West Bank settlement Ariel.
Unlike when he last visited, as a U.S. senator in 2008, Obama will not go to the Western Wall, Judaism’s most important prayer plaza. It is located at the heart of East Jerusalem, among lands Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war and which it annexed as its capital in a move never accepted abroad.
By tradition, worshippers and tourists alike leave notes in the cracks of the wall, a gesture Obama may want to avoid as Israelis and Palestinians try to divine U.S. strategy. His handwritten goodwill meditation of 2008 was quickly prised out by onlookers and published in the media.
In tackling Iran’s disputed nuclear programme, Washington wants more time for sanctions against Tehran to work and to avoid a unilateral Israeli military strike. But the United States’ extensive funding of Israeli missile defence systems like Arrow and Iron Dome show a strong committment to the Jewish state’s security.