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Obama’s aides signaled before and after his election win in November that the administration would probably launch another peace push in a second term. The question remains how soon that might happen and how much of a hands-on role he takes, but even then, the chances for a breakthrough look dim.
There is a growing expectation, however, that Obama will make his first presidential trip to Israel in the next year or two.
A FEW BRIGHT SPOTS
There have been a few recent bright spots in relations. Obama won praise from Israelis for helping to get Egypt to broker an Israel-Hamas ceasefire in Gaza in November and for opposing the Palestinians’ latest U.N. statehood bid.
But Obama aides have not forgotten that Netanyahu left little doubt over his preference for Mitt Romney before the president defeated his Republican challenger in last year’s U.S. election.
With Hillary Clinton stepping down soon, Obama will rely on John Kerry, a Democratic senator and foreign policy veteran nominated to replace her as secretary of State, to spearhead any major initiatives on Israel and Iran.
Netanyahu has called Kerry a personal friend and “a known supporter of Israel’s security.” But Kerry is also on record criticizing Israel’s settlement policy and is likely to be a voice of caution against unilateral military action on Iran.
Obama’s nominee for defense secretary, former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, may be a source of deeper misgivings in Netanyahu’s camp, however.
His critics in Washington, including neoconservative thinkers, Republican colleagues and some pro-Israel groups, have accused him of being soft on Iran and not supportive enough of Israel - allegations he denies and which the White House is working hard to counter.
Any change in the Obama-Netanyahu dynamic should be clear by early March - that is when Netanyahu has traditionally addressed AIPAC, the biggest pro-Israel lobby, in Washington each year. Obama is also a regular speaker at the group’s conference.
The leaders would be expected to meet at the White House as well. But there are no guarantees. In what was widely regarded as a snub, Obama declined to see Netanyahu in September on his last U.S. visit to address the U.N. General Assembly in New York.