Obama to visit Bethlehem (any chance of Pope Benedict’s photo opp?)

Israel/Palestine
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399px Church of the Nativity Bethlehem Palestine
 Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem, Palestine  Photo:Lewis Larsson

Haaretz reports The Church of the Nativity has been added to Obama’s itinerary on the Palestine portion of his trip to the region.

Haaretz:

Obama is expected during his trip to pay a visit to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem on Friday, March 22, members of his delegation told Israeli government ministry representatives on Monday.

According to a high-ranking Israeli official, that stop was added to his itinerary only in the past few days. UNESCO recognized the Church of the Nativity as a Palestinian World Heritage Site in June 2012, several months after Palestine became a full-fledged member of the organization.

What they don’t say and what is significant; U.S. congress pulled funding for UNESCO the day after Palestine became its 195th full member on October 31. 2011:

Cheers filled the hall at Unesco’s headquarters here after the vote, with one delegate shouting, “Long live Palestine!” in French.

Defying a mandated cutoff of American funds cost UNESCO 22% of it’s budget, around 70 million dollars. This is a very telling decision by President Obama, who sought a waiver that would allow the U.S. to continue supporting UNESCO. And the US, along with Israel, is on record as opposing UNESCO’s decision to grant the Church of the Nativity world heritage status.

Regarding the rest of Obama’s schedule, the Washington Post echos the familiar saber rattlings of Netanyahu’s first visit to Washington after Obama was elected president.

Analysis: Iran, Palestinian talks, Netanyahu ties to dominate Obama trip to Israel:

Israel views a nuclear armed Iran as a threat to its existence, and Netanyahu has hinted at launching a pre-emptive military strike on the Islamic Republic to set back its nuclear program. Tehran has already enriched enough uranium to 20 percent purity for the country, should it decided to do so, to quickly move toward levels needed for a bomb……Netanyahu, thus, will want more public reassurances from Washington.

….

There have been hints, but only hints, that Netanyahu might be ready to again call a halt to expanding settlements — part of a potential deal that would leave those around Jerusalem in place in return for a land swap elsewhere. That’s a bitter pill for the Palestinians, but one they might swallow if the deal were sufficiently sweet. And the Israeli government quickly knocked down such reports on settlements.

….

The hope is that Obama reassurances on Iran will give a politically weakened Netanyahu the needed cover for a move back toward talks with the Palestinians, who are worried that Obama will do too little during his visit to pressure the Israeli leader on the need to resume negotiations.

Analysis? This is exactly what we’ve been hearing for years. When is someone going to be honest with us? The ‘threat’ of a nuclear holocaust coming from Iran, a country that doesn’t even have a nuclear weapons program, according to our intelligence, is being used by Israel to buy time and expand the settlements. And American-led ‘peace talks’ without any enforcement means inevitably lead to Israel’s expansion (which is why Palestinian youth groups are demonstrating against returning to negotiations.)

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Benedict at the Wall (photo: Mahmoud Illean)

Will Obama visit reprise the amazing optics of Pope Benedict’s visit four years ago? From the Times:

Just yards from the barrier separating Israelis and Palestinians, Pope Benedict XVI expressed solidarity on Wednesday with “all the homeless Palestinians who long to be able to return to their birthplace, or live permanently in a homeland of their own.”

It was not the first time the pope had endorsed the creation of a Palestinian state, but the location, with the concrete-and-barbed-wire barrier and a checkpoint towering in the background, was deliberately chosen to strengthen his case. Benedict called the structure, which is loathed by Palestinians but which Israel says is key to its security, “a stark reminder of the stalemate that relations between Israelis and Palestinians seem to have reached.”

About Annie Robbins

Annie Robbins is Editor at Large for Mondoweiss, a mother, a human rights activist and a ceramic artist. She lives in the SF bay area. Follow her on Twitter @anniefofani

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