Palestinian activists set up a protest camp on Wednesday close to where Israel wants to build a new settlement in the occupied West Bank, drawing attention to their struggle during a visit to the region by President Barack Obama.
Over a hundred demonstrators erected four large, steel-framed tents and a massive Palestinian flag on the rugged, rocky tract near Jerusalem, just as Obama arrived in nearby Tel Aviv for three days of talks and meetings.
“We are here to send a message to President Obama, our struggle, our non-violent peaceful resistance will continue until we are free,” said senior Palestinian politician Mustafa Barghouthi, standing on the windy outcrop.
Israeli police entered the tent colony and told protesters to clear the area, which they called a “closed military zone,” but did not immediately try to tear down the camp.
Obama was holding talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday and is due to travel to the West Bank on Thursday to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
He has said he was coming to listen and would not bring a new peace initiative, three years after the last direct negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians broke down over the question of Jewish settlement construction.
Palestinians complain that Obama has not put enough pressure on Israel to halt the settlements and warn that the prospect of creating a viable, independent state is fading fast.
Netanyahu announced in December plans to build hundreds of settler homes in a sensitive area on Jerusalem’s outskirts that is known by its administrative name E1.
If construction goes ahead, E1 would create a linked-up stretch of Jewish neighbourhoods in the West Bank between Pisgat Zeev and Maale Adumim, a settlement of some 30,000 Israelis.