Barcelona footballer Lionel Messi placed a wish in Jerusalem’s Western Wall today as he and his team-mates completed a two-day “peace tour” of Israel and the West Bank that included a training clinic for young Palestinians in Hebron and meetings with the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem.
The team got a taste of the difficulties in attempting to bridge the divide between opposing factions when, soon after the photocall, Israel’s cabinet announced a new plan which will see preferential funding going to settlements in the West Bank that are considered illegal under international law. The decision will no doubt infuriate the Palestinians days after the beginning of the first peace talks between the two sides since 2010.
The government said that the decision was related to security concerns, rather than any policy of settlement expansion, and comes a week after the Israeli government acceded to Palestinian demands to release 104 prisoners held since before the Oslo peace accord in 1993. The first group of 26 prisoners is due to be released on 13 August.