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Obama in Palestine: How the day unfolded

March 21, 2013 10:57 A.M. (Updated: March 24, 2013 9:51 A.M.)
17:30 Here ends our live report of US President Barack Obama's visit to the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem. Tomorrow he heads to Bethlehem before an Israeli farewell ceremony at Ben Gurion International Airport.

17:24 Obama: "Look to the future that you want for your own children, a future where a ... Jewish state is protected for this time and all time."

"There will be many who say this is not possible, but remember this. Israel is the most powerful country in this region. Israel has the unshakable support of the most powerful country in the world. Israel isn't going anywhere."

17:19 Obama: "There's no secret about where negotiations must lead: two states for two peoples."

"Palestinians must realize that Israel will be a Jewish state, and Israelis have a right to insist on their security. Israelis must recognize that continued settlement activity is counter-productive to the cause of peace and that an independent Palestine must be viable with real borders that must be drawn."

17:18 "While I know you have had differences with the Palestinian Authority I genuinely believe you do have a true partner with President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad. I believe that. And they have a track record to prove it," Obama continues.

"Peace is possible."

17:16 Obama: "I'm going off script here for a second, but before I came here I met with a group of young Palestinians from the age of 15 - 22, and talking to them they weren't that different from my daughters, weren't' that different from your daughters or sons.

"I honestly believe that if any Israeli parent sat down with those kids, they'd say 'I want these kids to succeed. I want them to prosper, I want them to have opportunities just like my kids do.' I believe that's what Israelis parents would want if they had an opportunity to listen and to talk to them."

17:15 Obama: Security has to be at the center of any agreement. And there is no question, there is no path to peace without negotiations.

"But the Palestinians' right to self-determination, their right to justice, must also be recognized,"

Obama adds: "Neither occupation or expulsion is the answer."

17:10 The only way for Israel to remain a Jewish and democratic state is through the creation of an independent Palestine, Obama says.

"Israel needs to reverse an undertone of isolation. And given the march of technology, the only way to protect the Israeli people (is a peace agreement)."

17:07 "Politically, given the strong bipartisan support for Israel in America, the easy thing for me to do would be just to put this issue aside. But I want you to know that I speak to you as a friend that is deeply concerned about your future," Obama tells Israelis.

17:05 "I know Israel has taken risks for peace. Brave leaders, Menacham Begin, Itzhak Rabin, reached treaties with two of your neighbors. You made credible proposals to the Palestinians at Annapolis. You withdrew from Gaza and faced rockets," Obama continues.

"I believe the Israeli people do want peace. And I also understand why too many Israelis, maybe an increasing number, maybe a lot of young people here today are skeptical that it can be achieved."

17:04 "Make no mistake ... Israel's not going anywhere," Obama says to a standing ovation.

"You are not alone," Obama says, in Hebrew.

17:00 Obama on Iran: "Strong and principled diplomacy is the best way to ensure the Iranian government forsakes nuclear weapons. Peace is far more preferable to war. We need to do everything we can to resolve this diplomatically."

"We know there remains time to pursue a diplomatic solution ... Iran must know this time is not unlimited, and I have made the position of the United States clear."

16:55 Obama is heckled while addressing Israel students in Jerusalem. "I wouldn't feel comfortable if I didn't have at least one heckler," the US president says to a round of applause.

16:45 Now is the time for the Arab world to take steps toward normalized relations with Israel, Obama says.

Here's a Palestinian poet on normalization:

16:44 Obama delivers a key-note speech to Israeli students in Jerusalem.

He begins: "Shalom. It is an honor to be here with you in Jerusalem, and I am so grateful for the welcome that I have received from the people of Israel. I bring with me the support of the American people, and the friendship that binds us together"

16:09 US helicopters fly over Bethlehem ahead of Obama's visit to the southern West Bank city on Friday.

16:00 A small Salafi group called Magles Shoura al-Mujahddin says in an internet statement that it fired the rockets at Israel earlier today, to show that Israeli air defenses could not stop attacks during Obama's visit.

The rockets landed in Sderot, causing damage to a yard but no injuries.

15:45 Several protesters have been injured by rubber-coated steel bullets at a demonstration in support of prisoners outside Israel's Ofer military detention center near Ramallah, activists say.

An Israeli military spokeswoman says forces used "riot dispersal means, including rubber bullets," to disperse "a violent and illegal riot."

15:36 Iran's most powerful authority says the Islamic Republic would destroy Tel Aviv and Haifa if Israel launched a military attack against it.

"At times the officials of the Zionist regime (Israel) threaten to launch a military invasion but they themselves know that if they make the slightest mistake the Islamic Republic will raze Tel Aviv and Haifa to the ground," Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said during an address, broadcast live on state television.

15:15 Obama looks at a science experiment with PA premier Salam Fayyad at a youth center in Al-Bireh.

14:57 Obama hasn't publicly mentioned Palestinian political prisoners, but Issa Qaraqe, minister of detainee affairs, gave the US president a letter on behalf of detainees' families urging him to intervene, particularly in the case of Samer Issawi who is said to be close to death after 232 days on hunger strike.

"More than half a million Palestinian citizens were detained since 1967, and about 4900 are being held now including men, women, children, lawmakers, elderly people, disabled people, civil servants, militants, former minister and politicians. They are living in inhuman condition and subjected to abusive procedures under military regulations which breach international law and human rights conventions," the letter said.

14:15 Obama's next stop is a youth center in Al-Bireh, currently a ghost town thanks to Palestinian Authority road blocks and checkpoints.

14:02 Abbas warns that young Palestinians have no hope in the two-state solution.

"Many Palestinians when they see settlements in the West Bank -- and I don't know who gave them that right -- they lose hope in the two state solution."

"The new generation believes it is no longer possible to have a two-state solution. If peace between us and the Israelis is achieved, Israelis will learn that the Arab world ... shall immediately recognize the state of Israel in accordance with the Road Map."

14:00 A rather defiant Abbas takes the mic - and insists that settlements are more than just an obstacle.

"Regarding the issue of settlements, that isn't just our perception that settlements are illegal. It is a global perspective. Everybody views settlements not only as a hurdle, but more than a hurdle to a two-state solution," Abbas says.

"We are asking for nothing outside the international legitimacy. It is the responsibility of the Israeli government to at least halt settlement activities so we can at least speak."

"The issue of settlements is clear. We never gave up our vision, whether now or previously. But we continue to maintain this vision, and we believe that settlements are illegal and settlement activities are illegal. We hope that the Israeli government understands this. We hope they listen to many opinions inside Israel itself speaking of the illegality of settlements. We spoke about this with Mr President and we clarified our point of view about how we can reach a solution."

13:58 On whether there should be a settlement freeze, Obama tells reporters: "If, to even begin the conversation, we have to get everything right from the outset, then we're never going to get to the broader issue which is how do you structure a state of Palestine that is sovereign, contiguous and provides the Palestinian people dignity, and how to you provide Israel confidence about its security."

He adds: "That's not to say settlements are not important, that's to say if we solve the (main) problems, then settlements will be resolved.

"Part of my goal during this trip has been to hear from both President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu what they would need and how they would see a potential path, how it would be structured."

"I think incremental steps that serve to delay and put off some of the fundamental issues rather than incremental steps that help to shape what a final settlement might look like are probably not going to be the best approach. Because it's not clear that that will in fact build trust."

13:56 Obama: The EI settlement is "an example of a public statement by the Israeli government that would be difficult to square with a two-state solution. I've said that to Prime Minister Netanyahu, i don't think that's a secret,"

In December, Netanyahu announced plans to build hundreds of settler homes in a sensitive area on Jerusalem's outskirts that is known by its administrative name E1.

E1 would create a linked-up stretch of Jewish neighborhoods in the West Bank between Pisgat Zeev and Maale Adumim, and cut the West Bank in half.

13:54 The second and last question goes to CBS news: President, you called for a halt to settlement activity then after E1 you issued a tame response, so how do you respond to positions in the region that you gave up on that issue more or less?

13:53 Obama addresses settlements, for the first time publicly since he landed:

"One of the challenges has been continued settlement activity in the West Bank area, and I've been clear with Prime Minister Netanyahu and other Israeli leadership that it has been United States policy not just in my administration but all preceding administrations that we do not consider continued settlement activity to be constructive, to be appropriate, to be something that can advance the cause of peace. So I don't think there's been any confusion about what our position is."

Obama added that he understood Israel politics was difficult on this issue.

"And Israelis have concerns abut rockets flying into their cities, like last night, and it would be easy for them to say, 'see, this is why we can't have peace.'"

A PLO official responds on Twitter:

13:50 Obama responds: "The possibility continues to exist for a two-state solution. I continue to believe it is our best, and in some ways our only way to achieve some kind of peaceful resolution of old conflicts but also the opening up of new opportunities for peoples on both sides."

But, "People want to have 100 percent of what they want, or 95 percent of what they want, without making the necessary compromises."

"If we can get direct negotiations started again, I believe the shape of a potential deal is there."

"If both sides can make that leap together, then not only do I believe the Israeli people and the Palestinian people would support it in huge numbers. I also think the world and region would cheer. Some people would be upset because they benefit from the current conflict."

13:47 Obama and Abbas to take questions, first up from Reuters: Is there a chance to resume peace talks quickly; is the two-state solution still viable; and did Obama raise a settlement freeze with Netanyahu?

13:46 Obama praises popular resistance in the West Bank:

"I think of the villages that hold peaceful protests because they understand the importance of nonviolence."

"Whenever I meet these young people, whether they're Israeli or Palestinian, I think of my young daughters ... Those of us in the United States understand that change takes time, but change is possible. There was a time when my daughters did not have the same opportunities as somebody else's daughters."

13:45 "We can not give up on the search for peace. Too much is at stake," Obama says.

"Both sides need to think anew ... I'm confident we can arrive at our destination: to advance the vision of two nations, two neighbors living at peace, Israel and Palestine."

13:44 Obama: "We seek an independent, viable and contiguous Palestinian state as the homeland of the Palestinian people alongside a Jewish state of Israel."

The US president continues: "The only way to achieve that goal is direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians themselves. There is no shortcut to a sustainable solution."

13:44 Obama condemns rockets fired at an Israeli town from Gaza earlier today.

"We condemn this violation of the important ceasefire that protects both Israelis and Palestinians, a violation that Hamas has a responsibility to prevent."

13:43 Obama: "The United States is deeply committed to the creation of an independent sovereign state of Palestine."

13:42 "We value your achievements, and we mourn your losses," Obama says, referring to a recent bus accident in Jordan that killed 15 Palestinians.

13:39 "Like people everywhere Palestinians deserve a future of hope, that their rights will be respected that tomorrow will be better than today ... Palestinians deserve a state of their own," Obama says.

13:38 After Abbas, President Barack Obama speaks at news conference in Ramallah, greeting reporters with an Arabic "Marhaba."

13:36 Abbas: "We are also serious about ending the division and achieving Palestinian reconciliation, which constitutes an additional source of power for us to continue our march toward making peace, security and stability in the region."

13:35 President Abbas tells Obama: "We are pleased to receive you in our country. Our people share (with America) the values of freedom, equality, justice and human rights."

13:33 Abbas: "Peace shall not be made through violence, occupation, walls, settlements, arrests, siege and denial of refugee rights."

13:30 Abbas addresses reporters at a news conference after meeting with Obama.

13:10 The military court in Ofer has scheduled three further hearings for Samer Issawi in May, when Israeli intelligence will present secret information about Issawi's case. Neither Issawi nor his lawyer are allowed at these hearings.

13:05 An Israeli military court suspends a hearing for Samer Issawi to April 4, his lawyer says. Doctors said Issawi was too sick to attend the hearing, after 232 days on hunger strike.

12:45 Joining Abbas in his meeting with Obama are: PA premier Salam Fayyad, Minister of Foreign Affairs Riyad al-Malki, Prisoner Affairs Minister Issa Qaraqe, Fatah Central Committee member Mohammad Shtayyeh and Abbas' economic adviser Mohammad Mustafa.

12:21 Minutes ago, Israeli forces visited the new Palestinian "village" encampment east of Jerusalem and asked them to leave voluntarily, according to activist Muhammad Khatib.

The soldiers expressed frustration at the activists' refusal to leave the place, saying they are overwhelmed due to Obama's visit and warning that the camp will be cleared as soon as the president departs. Khatib told Ma'an.

12:20 Obama to address protesting Palestinians with symbolic nod, shrug -- according to The Onion's itinerary.

12:15 Palestinian media watchdog Mada has urged Obama to pressure Israel to respect freedom of expression.

Mada director Mousa Rimawi noted that Israeli forces killed three journalists during the November war on Gaza and bombed media offices in Gaza City.

12:06 Gaza-based prime minister Ismail Haniyeh weighs in on the visit: "We believe American policies perpetuate the Israeli occupation and settlements in Palestine under a slogan of peace."

He added: "The PA must realize that they have to abide by national principles and reconciliation."

11:50 Demonstrators continue to scuffle with Palestinian security forces in Ramallah. "I want to go back to my father's village," one sign reads.

11:45 In Ramallah, protesters hold up shoes calling for Obama to leave Palestine. Five rows of police block the road to the presidential compound where Abbas and Obama are meeting.

11:40 Abbas came bearing gifts for the US president -- a portrait. Not everyone is impressed.

11:29 A Ma'an correspondent is observing minor scuffles with protesters as the Palestinian security presence grows to about 150 in the main protest area near Ramallah's KFC restaurant.

11:22 As Obama and Abbas hold talks in the presidential headquarters, about 300 protesters are shouting anti-Obama slogans at a demonstration outside the building. Around 50 members of the Palestinian security forces are watching cautiously.

11:12 Here's a selection of slogans on display in Ramallah's Manara square:

-- Obama: Stop supporting Israeli war crimes

-- USA-Israel-UK: The triangle of horror

-- USA is a party to the conflict and is not neutral

-- USA voted for occupation Nov. 29, 2012

11:10 Ramallah city center is on lockdown, a Ma'an reporter says, but a handful of protesters are holding signs supporting Palestinian prisoners and accusing Obama of bias toward Israel.

11:07 All eyes are not on Obama.

11:03 Obama greets line up of Palestinian officials including Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and chief negotiator Saeb Erekat on red carpet.

11:01 Military band butchers American national anthem, following by Palestine's national anthem, for Obama and Abbas.

10:55 Obama's helicopter is touching down at the presidential headquarters.

10:54 Military marching bands are arriving at the president's headquarters, loudly playing bagpipes.

10:50 Obama is flying in to a heliport at the Presidential Compound, so it's unlikely he'll see the billboards erected along main roads in Ramallah warning the US president that his blackberry won't work. Israel won't allow Palestinian companies to set up the infrastructure for 3G.

10:43 President Mahmoud Abbas condemns earlier rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, Palestinian Authority media reports.

"We condemn violence against civilians regardless of its source, including rocket firing," Abbas was quoted as saying by Wafa news agency.

"We are in favor of maintaining mutual and comprehensive calm in Gaza," he added.

10:30 Abbas did not heed a call by the Palestinian Human Rights Organizations Council to demand the meeting with Obama be relocated from Ramallah to the headquarters of the PLO in East Jerusalem.

"It will challenge Israel’s attempts to change East Jerusalem’s de jure status as occupied territory, and the international community’s indirect recognition of this illegal situation," the PHROC had suggested.

10:15 According to a PLO document outlining talking points for Abbas' meeting with Obama, Abbas would accept a secret settlement freeze to return to negotiations with Israel, absolving Netanyahu of any public announcement.

Chief negotiator Saeb Erekat also suggested Abbas should urge Obama to convince Netanyahu to accept 1967 borders, according to the document obtained by The New York Times.

Abbas may suggest dissolving the Palestinian Authority if no progress is made toward independence, forcing Netanyahu to resume responsibility for the occupied West Bank.

10:00 Doctors say Samer Issawi is too sick to attend a hearing scheduled later today at Israel's Ofer detention center, after 232 days on hunger strike.

09:50 Obama surveys a start-up innovation presentation at the Israel Museum, Haaretz reports.

09:30 Israeli soldiers continue to surround a new Palestinian tent village set up by activists in Eizariya as Obama arrived in Israel on Wednesday. An army spokeswoman says forces are "containing activity" but not evacuating the site - yet.

09:20 Obama visits the Israel Museum to see the Dead Sea Scrolls - ancient Jewish parchments discovered by a Bedouin shepherd in the West Bank in the 1940s.

07:52 Two rockets exploded in Sderot in southern Israel, police said, damaging the yard of a home but causing no injuries. No militants in Gaza have claimed responsibility for the fire.

07:27 Israeli forces appear to have taken the night off from arrest raids. An Israeli military spokeswoman tells Ma'an that no Palestinians were detained in the West Bank overnight.

Today, Barack Obama makes his first visit to Palestine as US president. Follow this live report for up-to-the-minute updates of events as they unfold.
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