Netanyahu Expected To Visit Obama

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is about to set out to Washington D.C., where he'll meet President Obama Friday and, next week, address a joint session of Congress. His trip comes as Israel's under growing pressure, thanks partly to the Arab Spring. The Palestinians' campaign for statehood has new momentum — and now, with Fatah and Hamas united again, they're planning to seek recognition from the U.N. in September. Netanyahu will use the mission to try to counter this — particularly by denouncing the inclusion of Hamas in a future Palestinian government.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

President Obama delivers a major speech on the Middle East tomorrow. And on Friday, he sits down with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu here in Washington. Their meeting comes at a critical moment for both Israel and the U.S.

As NPR's Philip Reeves reports, thanks to the Arab Spring, the geopolitical map is shifting and so is the strategy of the Palestinians in their campaign for an independent state.

PHILIP REEVES: Palestinians appear more hopeful today about their quest for statehood than they have in a long time. Their officials say their cause has a kind of new momentum. Listen to Ahmed Yousef, a former advisor to Hamas in the Gaza strip.

Mr. AHMED YOUSEF: Today, this is a new dawn and the Arab Spring everybody is talking about, and that's what we count on.

REEVES: There was evidence of this Sunday, say Palestinian officials.

(Soundbite of crowd shouting)

REEVES: It was the annual Palestinian day of protest, marking the mass displacement of Palestinians with the creation of Israel in 1948. Crowds in neighboring Lebanon and Syria advanced on the border fences. Israeli forces opened fire. At least a dozen people were killed. Husam Zomlot, a senior Fatah official in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, says this shows Arab neighbors are rallying to the Palestinian side. It was, he says...

Mr. HUSAM ZOMLOT (Fatah official): A good day for Palestinians, a good day for the region, a good day for the international community at large. It's a good day because in the face of tanks, in the face of violence, they have decided to act non-violently.

REEVES: This decades-old dispute is taking some new twists and turns. The two main Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas, have reconciled after a long feud. They're planning a big new tactical play. They're going for a vote in the United Nations General Assembly seeking recognition for an independent Palestinian state. The overall idea is to isolate Israel. Zomlot again.

Mr. ZOMLOT: We have shifted our strategy. And our strategy is to bring an amount of pressure on Israel, whether locally, regionally or internationally, whereby Israel comes to serious negotiations in the future.

REEVES: During his trip to Washington, Netanyahu will seek to win back the initiative. He'll target Hamas and its reconciliation with Fatah, the party behind the Palestinian authority. Hamas is a terrorist organization in the eyes of Israel and America.

Netanyahu says Israel will not negotiate peace with a Palestinian government that includes Hamas unless Hamas renounces violence and recognized Israel. Danny Ayalon is Israel's deputy foreign minister.

Mr. DANIEL AYALON (Deputy Foreign Minister, Israel): We will have to really put the pressure on the Palestinian Authority so we know which way they are going, Hamas way or the peace way. So as long as they continue with this culture of hate and not recognition of Israel, then what is there to talk about?

REEVES: The U.S. makes the same demands of Hamas and is also not in favor of the Palestinian plan for a U.N. vote of recognition. Zomlot of Fatah says this plan's gaining support, especially in Europe.

Mr. ZOMLOT: The Europeans are much closer to our position. I know that for a fact.

REEVES: Ayalon disputes this view.

Mr. AYALON: Having visited now seven European capitals, I can tell you that they understand the enormity of the decision. I'm not sure that they are going to go for this one-sided resolution.

REEVES: These are complex times, when alliances in the Middle East are shifting. Alon Liel, former director general of Israel's foreign ministry, is critical of Netanyahu. He thinks Netanyahu's basically not interested in peace negotiations and that Israel is in a difficult position.

Dr. ALON LIEL : Israel is completely isolated in the region. We lost Turkey. We lost Jordan. We have demonstrations in front of our embassy in Cairo. And definitely, the Middle East is rejecting us.

REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News, Jerusalem.

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