World News

Obama to visit Israel and West Bank next week

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - U.S. Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama will visit Israel and the occupied West Bank next week, Israeli and Palestinian officials said on Monday.

Obama will be in Israel on July 22 and 23 and hold talks with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Defence Minister Ehud Barak, President Shimon Peres and opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, an Israeli official said.

Palestinian peace negotiator Saeb Erekat said Obama would also meet President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah next Wednesday.

Obama had been widely expected to visit the Middle East this summer. He has faced wariness among some Jewish voters over his commitment to Israel, fuelled by suspicion over comments indicating willingness to talk to Iranian leaders.

In a speech last month, Obama told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee that if elected president in November, he would work for peace with a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

But in comments that dismayed Palestinian leaders, he said in the address that “Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided”.

Obama said on Sunday he had used “poor phrasing” in making that statement.

“The point we were simply making was, is that we don’t want barbed wire running through Jerusalem, similar to the way it was prior to the ‘67 war, that it is possible for us to create a Jerusalem that is cohesive and coherent,” Obama said on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria -- GPS” programme.

Israel calls the city its undivided and eternal capital, but this status has never been recognised internationally. Palestinians want Arab East Jerusalem, annexed by Israel after the 1967 conflict, for a future capital.

Republican presidential candidate John McCain visited Israel in March. He did not go to the West Bank, but spoke by telephone to Abbas. (Reporting by Avida Landau in Jerusalem, Mohammed Assadi in Ramallah and Jim Vicini in Washington, Editing by Mariam Karouny)