Washington — Is President Obama’s plan to visit Israel a sign that he’s ready to take another shot at Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking?
The White House announced Tuesday that Obama would visit Israel in the spring, his first trip there as president. He did visit in 2008, when he was a candidate for the Oval Office. This trip also will include meetings with Palestinian Authority leaders and a trip to Jordan, the White House said.
Obama spoke of the visit in a conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Jan. 28. The White House did not announce dates.
The announcement appears to be a signal that the president is serious about peacemaking, said David Makovsky, an analyst with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, which has close ties with the Obama and Netanyahu governments.
“Part of the problem is that on all sides, there’s disbelief that peace is possible,” Makovsky said. “He wants to engage both societies about why you can’t give up. He wants to engage on the gut level with Arabs and Israelis in a way he hasn’t until now.”
In a region where optics are important, Obama’s failure to visit during his first term as president was cast by his opponents as a sign that Israel was not a high priority for him. It did not help Obama’s popularity in Israel when he omitted the Jewish state from a June 2009 visit to the Middle East that included a major speech in Cairo and a stop in Saudi Arabia.
As much as anything else, the spring trip may be about reaching out to Israelis.
“I’m excited that President Obama is coming this spring to reaffirm the deep ties between Israel and the United States,” Dan Shapiro, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, said in a message in Hebrew on Twitter.