By Oren Fliegelman
February 18, 2013
With much hurrah from the American and Israeli press, the White House announced earlier this month that President Obama will be traveling to Israel in March for the first time in his presidency. Administration officials are touting the trip as a resetting of the often tenuous relationship that has existed between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. With Obama recently inaugurated for his second term and Netanyahu in the process of putting together a new coalition after his country’s parliamentary elections, it seems like the perfect opportunity for Obama to reach out to his Israeli counterpart. Although Netanyahu’s party emerged weakened from the January 22nd elections, it still won enough seats to ensure another term for Netanyahu, meaning that the two leaders will need to deal with each other for years to come.
Israelis seem quite excited that Obama is visiting, hoping to reengage with the US presidential post that has often been at odds with Netanyahu’s right-wing agenda. Speaking on MSNBC this past week, the Israeli ambassador to the US, Michael Oren, said “Look, we’re delighted that he is coming… He’ll be received enthusiastically by the government of Israel, by the prime minister of Israel, by the people of Israel.” Although Obama traveled the Middle East during the 2008 campaign, he skipped over the country during his 2009 trip, choosing only to visit Egypt and Saudi Arabia. During the 2012 campaign, Mitt Romney often trotted out Obama’s omission of Israel from the itinerary as a proof of the Democrat’s lack of support for the Jewish State.
Due to the trip’s emphasis on a strengthening the American-Israeli relationship, Obama’s Press Secretary Jay Carney has made a point of publicly minimizing the potential of discussions about the Israel-Palestinian conflict on the trip. “I’m sure that any time the president and prime minister have a discussion and certainly any time the president has a discussion with leaders of the Palestinian Authority, that those issues are raised,” Carney said recently. “But that is not the purpose of this visit.” Even if that is not the intention of the trip, Obama will be seeing Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah and Jordanian King Abdullah II in Amman after visiting Israel. Depending on how the trip goes, it will help determine the relationship between Washington and Jerusalem for the next four years.