RAMALLAH, West Bank – A small crowd of Palestinian protesters accosted an American diplomatic delegation visiting the West Bank Tuesday, blocking a convoy of vehicles, chanting "shame on you" and hurling a shoe -- a deeply insulting gesture in Arab culture.
The Americans, including employees of the consulate in Jerusalem, were on their way to a U.S. reception in town of Ramallah meant to reaffirm cultural and educational ties with the Palestinians.
But relations have grown strained recently, with Palestinians disappointed over President Barack Obama's handling of Mideast peace efforts. They say he is not tough enough on Israel and are also upset over U.S. vows to block their attempt to receive full membership at the United Nations.
Members of Congress have already put a hold on $200 million in economic assistance to the Palestinians to dissuade them from pushing forward with the U.N. request. Officials have also hinted that aid could be cut altogether if the Palestinians proceed with their plans. The U.S. provides some $500 million a year to the Palestinians.
The activists involved in the demonstration, which was organized on Facebook, called for a boycott of the U.S. reception. They held banners reading, "No for the American funds," "Veto America" and "Obama, your vision is shortsighted."
One man, dressed in a tie and sunglasses, spewed an English-language expletive at the convoy.
A State Department official said employees of the American consulate in Jerusalem were among those caught up in the protest.
After a short delay, Palestinian police cleared a path for the American convoy to enter the resort where the reception took place. But several Palestinian invitees said they were intimidated by the protesters and backed out of the event at the last moment.
Tami Rafedi, a 35-year-old Palestinian activist pursuing a Ph.D in Florida on a U.S. scholarship, said the action was meant to "send a message to America."
"You cannot stand against our national aspirations and you cannot blackmail us with your money," she said.
The U.S. is committed to Palestinian independence, but like Israel, it says the United Nations is not the proper place to achieve statehood, and that peace can only come about through negotiations.
With peace talks stalled for most of the past three years, the Palestinians have said they have little choice but to turn to the U.N.
They refuse to negotiate with Israel while it continues to build in Jewish settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, saying the construction is a sign of bad faith. The Palestinians have expressed disappointment over Obama's failure to halt settlement construction, after harshly condemning the practice upon taking office.