Power received all the courtesies granted a visiting head of state, but chose to address mostly children
[Jerusalem] Samantha Power, the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, is visiting Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Ramallah over the Valentine’s Day weekend, but it does not appear that she came bearing flowers and chocolate hearts for local leaders. Mostly, it appears Power is here to restate long-held American commitments.
Despite a list of meetings rivaling those granted to any visiting head of state, the Ambassador has chosen to address only children during her four-day stay.
In making this decision, she was perhaps inspired by her boss, President Barack Obama. In his only presidential visit to the region, in 2013, he turned down the opportunity to address the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, choosing instead to appear in a convention center filled with Israeli university students who participated in a lottery to obtain tickets.
On Saturday, the same day she met with Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, Power also held a meeting with young Palestinian women studying at the joint Al-Quds University/Bard College program, telling them that “knowledge is a weapon for women’s empowerment,” as per First Lady Michelle Obama’s international #LetGirlsLearn initiative.
“Israel’s intransigence has torpedoed the peace process as a whole,” Hamdallah said, during the meeting. “Through its practices, Israel seeks to undermine the two-state solution.” Power, had earlier tweeted that she’d be “meeting with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, civil society and UN to discuss US commitment to two-states side by side in security and peace.”
In a statement, Hamdallah “affirmed his government’s commitment to the two-state solution and non-violent popular resistance to Israeli occupation,” and said he briefed Power on the “almost-nine-year Israeli blockade of Gaza,” Israel’s ongoing control over the West Bank’s Area C and “denying Palestinians access to their natural resources and stepping up the policy of house demolitions and forceful displacement of Palestinians, especially in East Jerusalem and Hebron.”
That same day, Power had allowed herself a private walk around Jerusalem’s Old City, posting wistful images on her personal Twitter feed.
On Monday, Power visits the bilingual Arabic-Hebrew Hand-in-Hand school in Jerusalem that has over 600 students from diverse religious and ethnic backgrounds, and will play a basketball scrimmage with PeacePlayers, an NGO that brings Israelis and Palestinians together through sports diplomacy programs. The Jerusalem educational institution she will visit was firebombed by Jewish extremists last year, and has been struggling to regain its footing and stem the possible loss of students.
Later Monday, Power will deliver her only speech of the four-day visit, to high school students from more than 40 Israeli schools, who will gather at the Israel Middle East Model UN Conference at the American International School in Even Yehuda, a Tel Aviv bedroom community. The subject of her address is aimed at youthful idealism, not at wizened leaders. The State Department announced she will direct her comments to “how young people can help the UN live up to its core principles, including by fighting bias and injustice.”
The United States Embassy in Tel Aviv informed The Media Line that Power will meet with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Minister of Defense Moshe Yaalon.
Power’s visit will include discussions on “a range of regional and bilateral issues, including the United States’ and Israel’s shared security concerns and close cooperation, prospects for a two-state solution, and the importance of UN humanitarian and peacekeeping operations in the region,” the State Department said.
Speaking with The Media Line, Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said that “it is a very important visit.”
“We have exchanged with Ambassador Power all the complexities and difficulties—and also the opportunities– that pave the way to revive hope,” Erekat said. “The best hope is the two-state solution, and Ambassador Power gave us the chance to tell our side of the story and discuss the challenges we face from the Israeli government in terms of settlement activity. We were also able to hear from her about developments in the whole region, of course.”
“The most important thing,” Erekat continued, “is that Ambassador Power is a very knowledgeable person. She knows the issues of Israel and Palestine inside out, and we see eye to eye in our conviction that the only solution is a two state solution, with a State of Palestine and a State of Israel living side by side.”
Israeli officialdom remained mysteriously mum about the high-level visit. The Israeli foreign ministry spokesman, Emmanuel Nahchson, told The Media Line that “as of now, we have no comment to make regarding the visit.”
Amid the cataclysm unfolding in Syria, where half a million people are now estimated to have been killed in the five year old civil war, the timing of Power’s visit was not immediately evident.
David Makovsky, the director of the Program on the Middle Eastern Peace Process at the Washington Institute of Near East Policy and a former negotiator on Secretary of State John Kerry’s Israel-Palestine negotiating team, told The Media Line that, “Samantha Power has been someone who has given key speeches in defense of US-Israel relations including a recent one reminding people of the twin speeches of Chaim Herzog and Daniel Patrick Moynihan denouncing the infamous Zionism is Racism resolution in the presence of Secretary of State Kerry and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.”
“Due to her role at the UN and perhaps her own disposition, it seems she has been able to avoid being part of circle of tension that has too often has characterized the bilateral relationship in recent years. Therefore, I am sure she will be warmly received in Israel,” Makovsky said, dismissing Israel’s official silence.