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Ashrawi welcomes Obama visit, urges impartiality

Feb. 6, 2013 6:04 A.M. (Updated: Feb. 6, 2013 9:00 A.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- PLO leader Hanan Ashrawi welcomed Tuesday's announcement that US President Barack Obama will visit the region in the spring, but urged the US leader to be evenhanded toward Israel and Palestine.

"We welcome President Obama's visit, if it signals an American promise to become an honest and impartial peace broker," Ashrawi said in a statement Wednesday. "The US can play this positive role by engaging in an effective and constructive manner rather than by repeating the same policy of negotiations for their own sake."

Obama will visit the region in March to restart the Middle East peace process, an Israeli television station reported Tuesday. It would be the first visit by Obama since taking office.

Ashrawi said the visit's success would depend on Obama's willingness to confront Israel.

"Such an engagement requires decisive curbs on Israeli violations and unilateral measures, particularly settlement activity and the annexation of Jerusalem, as well as its siege and fragmentation policies," she said.

"Maintaining Israel’s impunity and sense of exceptionalism, while denying the Palestinian people’s rights to sovereignty, freedom and dignity, has been lethal to any meaningful pursuit of a viable and just peace.

"We therefore expect that this visit will rectify the failures of the past, demonstrate a newfound political will, and lead to urgent, substantive and serious action that will bring the Israeli occupation of the State of Palestine to an end."

On Tuesday, White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama will meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian and Jordanian leaders during the tour.

A White House official told Reuters that Obama and Netanyahu discussed the matter in a telephone call on Jan. 28.

"The start of the president's second term and the formation of a new Israeli government offer the opportunity to reaffirm the deep and enduring bonds between the United States and Israel and to discuss the way forward on a broad range of issues of mutual concern, including Iran and Syria," the official said.

Israeli leaders welcomed the announcement of Obama's visit, and parliament member Tzipi Livni said Tuesday that she hoped he and Netanyahu would restart the peace process.

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