Obama’s Charm Offensive In Israel

Mar 20 2013 @ 12:47pm

President Obama's Official Visit To Israel And The West Bank Day One

Beinart sees the president’s trip to Israel as a belated attempt to improve his image in the country:

[T]his week’s trip will involve, if nothing else, a lot of talking to the Israeli people. In addition to visiting Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum, and the graves of Theodor Herzl and Yitzhak Rabin, Obama will give a public speech in Jerusalem at which the White House has requested the presence of at least 1,000 Israelis. The idea is that by wooing ordinary Israelis first, Obama will find a more receptive audience when he unveils another initiative for Mideast peace. Administration aides are well aware that Netanyahu surrendered his first prime ministership after resisting demands for territorial withdrawal by Bill Clinton, a president widely admired in Israel. And they know that Yair Lapid, Netanyahu’s chief political rival, has criticized him for mismanaging the Obama relationship. A charm offensive, in other words, may do more to push Israel’s government in the direction of two states than a hard line.

Last week, Goldblog detailed the administration’s thinking:

During the first term, Administration thinking held that there was no point in sending the President to meet with Israelis and Palestinians on their home turf unless there was real progress in negotiations. Last year, this thinking shifted: Visiting the region while it was relatively quiet, without carrying a specific political agenda, grew to seem like a smart idea, in particular because many Israelis had grown suspicious of his intentions and would therefore benefit from direct exposure to the man, rather than his caricature.

Janine Zacharia believes that Obama’s campaign won’t make much headway:

Just as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel—whose nomination was held up by those who worried he wasn’t pro-Israel enough—wasn’t running for Israeli defense minister, Obama isn’t running for Israeli office (or any office for that matter). And anyone who knows Israelis and their current mindset on the Palestinians (Palestinians, who?) knows that a little ego stroking isn’t going to get that population behind a peace deal. That doesn’t mean the trip couldn’t do some good. While the president is there ostensibly repairing the relationship with Israelis who’ve felt jilted, Obama may be sending an important signal to Tehran. The message: Just because I can’t stand Bibi doesn’t mean I won’t stand with him in preventing you from getting a nuclear weapon.

Aaron David Miller doesn’t expect much either, but doubts there will be another dust-up between the president and Bibi:

Netanyahu — much weakened in the new coalition government by two upstarts who have shifted the agenda from security to social and economic issues — may want to keep foreign policy prominent. And for this, he needs Obama. While he and Obama have differed over whether a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities is wise, there is still a good chance for coordination. The Israelis don’t want to strike unilaterally. Netanyahu is hoping that either through a credible deal on restricting Iran’s uranium enrichment or through U.S. military action, the Iranian nuclear program will be constrained, if not undermined, and Israel won’t have to act alone.

Another topic that’s sure to come up is what to do about Syria’s chemical weapon stockpile. Meanwhile, Steven Cook zeroes in on the ever-shrinking space for negotiations, especially on Jerusalem, still a central component of any negotations for a peace process:

There is nothing to negotiate. No longer can one look at the city and say, as an old Israeli friend declared to me in the early 1990s, “It’s clear. One part of the city is ours and the other part is theirs. We should share it.”  In the ensuing two decades, the Israelis have done everything possible to make the predominantly Arab parts of East Jerusalem little more than an enclave of Palestinian residents in a greater Israeli and Jewish municipality. Piece-by-piece the Israelis have filled in a jigsaw of new neighborhoods that ring the eastern part of the city.

Jay Newton-Small previews Obama’s next stop after Israel:

The President will wrap his tour in Jordan, where he’ll try to convince King Abdullah not to close his borders to Syrians fleeing the two-year-old civil war, even as Jordan’s economy buckles under the strain of 400,000 refugees with twice that number expected by year’s end. Jordan’s economy has also taken a hit as tourism has fallen off due to regional unrest and the perception of insecurity. To promote Jordan, Obama will play tourist for a day, visiting the ancient site of Petra with 500 international journalists in tow, demonstrating how safe – and appealing – Jordan’s tourist attractions remain. Jordan also hopes for more pledges of support from the U.S. for the Syrian refugees and for their own economic reforms.

(Photo: US President Barack Obama shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during an official welcoming ceremony on his arrival at Ben Gurion International Airport on March 20, 2013 near Tel Aviv, Israel. By Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images)