JERUSALEM — A week before President Barack Obama is set to arrive in the region, Middle East politics are already casting a cloud over the visit as Israeli and Palestinian officials plan a series of events to promote their agendas.
Jerusalem city officials are offering visiting journalists a free tour of Israel's most contentious archaeological excavation, a sprawling dig in the heart of contested east Jerusalem. Israel has also suggested that journalists could avoid going to the West Bank with Obama when he meets with Palestinian leaders.
On the other side of the divide, Palestinian officials hope to introduce the U.S. president to the family of a prisoner held by Israel. Activists say they will also greet Obama with posters and demonstrations meant to draw attention to life under Israeli military occupation.
These events offer a glimpse of the political minefield Obama will have to navigate when he visits Israel and the West Bank next week, the first time he has come to the area as president. Each side will be trying to win his support for some of the most contentious issues between them.
Israel will be looking for assurances that the U.S. is serious about stopping Iran's suspect nuclear program. Obama will also be seeking to repair a strained relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. While he has said he will not present any grand peace plan, Obama will also be under pressure to convince the Palestinians that he is serious about getting peace efforts restarted — and presumably pressing Israel to make new concessions.
With so much at stake, Israelis and Palestinians are hoping to capitalize on their moment in the spotlight.