Palestinian Authority Officials Lower Expectations of Obama Visit

Palestinians say U.S. administration reps told them president was coming just 'to listen'; Abbas visits Putin Thursday, not coincidentally.

The Palestinians have low expectations from U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit because the American officials in charge of coordinating the visit have told Palestinian Authority officials not to anticipate any breakthroughs, saying he was coming just “to listen,” according to a Palestinian source.

“We don’t know what the Americans still haven’t heard about this issue, since things have been laid on the table time after time,” the source said. “If there’s real intent to resolve things, the Americans don’t need any more information from the Palestinians.”

On Wednesday, the Palestinians were informed that Obama plans to visit the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and not make do with just a visit to Ramallah, as was originally planned.

Palestinian officials say the relative apathy the Palestinians have exhibited toward Obama’s visit may explain why Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas traveled to Moscow on Wednesday to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday.

According to a Kremlin announcement, Abbas and Putin will discuss bilateral cooperation as well as the Palestinian position on returning to negotiations with Israel. PA sources noted that this will be the first meeting between Putin and Abbas since the recognition of Palestine as a non-member observer state by the UN General Assembly in November.

Back in the Middle East, some Palestinian leaders hope Obama’s presence will create movement on several issues, including the prisoners and the Palestinian Authority’s serious financial situation, which is verging on bankruptcy. The Palestinians stressed that nothing could be said at this stage about an Israeli agreement to release prisoners, including 123 men who were sentenced before the Oslo Accords, a small number of women prisoners and prisoners on hunger strike, but that things would hopefully be clarified in the coming days.

Two weeks ago, Haaretz reported that in meetings between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and Fatah Central Committee member Mohammed Shatiyeh, the Palestinians raised the prisoner issue and asked that Obama get more involved in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, a request repeated during a meeting between Abbas and Kerry in Saudi Arabia last week.

Haaretz has learned that the Americans are pressuring the Palestinian Authority to avoid any more unilateral moves, including petitioning the International Court of Justice against Israel. The Palestinians agreed on condition that the administration offers an acceptable formula to bring the two sides back to the negotiating table with the aim of establishing a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders.

In the days leading up to Obama’s visit, the Palestinians plan to hold intensive meetings with foreign ambassadors and consuls-general to present the Palestinian position on the conditions for resuming talks with Israel, and the ramifications of the diplomatic stagnation and the continuing expansion of West Bank settlements.