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Leading Palestinian member of Israeli Knesset on 2-week US visit

Ayman Odeh, the head of the mainly-Palestinian Joint List party in Israel, is set to meet with top US officials and human rights leaders
Ayman Odeh shouts slogans during a demonstration in front of the Dome of the Rock at Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, on 27 September 2015 (AFP)

In the first visit of its kind, one of the most prominent Palestinian members of Israel's parliament is heading to Washington for two weeks, Israeli media reported on Monday.

Ayman Odeh, the head of the mainly Palestinian Joint List party, will fly to the US on Tuesday, where he has meetings scheduled with top State Department officials and senior White House staff, the Israeli news site Ynet reported.

"The issues that matter to Israel's Arab citizens are hardly represented in the international conversation," Odeh told Ynet.

"I'm going to the US to bring that voice with me to influence sources and opinion leaders, and to create contacts and connections with the progressive and civil rights movements."

Odeh will hold discussions with a number of UN ambassadors in New York, meet with civil rights leaders in Atlanta and give a speech at Martin Luther King Jr's church, in addition to meeting with a group of 100 reform Jewish rabbis.

And in a high profile event, Odeh is scheduled to address the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning Washington-based think tank where Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke on 10 November.

Odeh's visit comes amid ongoing violence in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories which has left 100 dead on the Palestinian side, as well as 17 Israelis, an American and an Eritrean.

"It seems that the predominant tone as far as the Israeli-Palestinian issue is concerned is simply despair," Odeh told Ynet ahead of his visit.

"I come with the clear message – we don't have the privilege of despairing. Less than a month after Netanyahu's visit to the US and his half-apology, I go so that I may tell the hard truth about him and the government in Israel, which rose to power through racist incitement against Arab citizens."

In their first meeting since October 2014, Netanyahu sat down with President Barack Obama at the White House earlier this month. Obama had refused to meet with Netanyahu when he came to the US months earlier in a bid to urge Congress to stop the Iran nuclear deal.

In March elections, the Joint List - an alliance of four majority-Palestinian parties in Israel - made history and managed to obtain an unprecedented 13 seats in the Knesset, making it the third-largest political party in Israel's parliament.

In the same elections, however, Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party won an unexpectedly sweeping victory after the prime minister pledged not to allow a Palestinian state on his watch and warned that Palestinian citizens were headed to the polls "in droves".

His comments were widely condemned by Palestinian and US leaders alike, and he attemped to walk them back shortly after achieving electoral victory.

In May, Odeh gave his first speech to the Knesset as the head of the Joint List.

"Recognition of national rights does not take anything away from the rest of the citizenry," he said in the speech.

"On the contrary, it enriches the space we live in. We will continue to demand to be recognised as a national group which is entitled to full civil and national equality, and we will struggle for it."

Palestinian citizens make up some 20 percent of the population of Israel.