Is Barack Obama's Visit to Israel a Sign He Wants Mideast Peace Progress?

With Bibi Returning to Power, Trip Could Jumpstart Talks

Been a Long Time**: Barack Obama, shown here on his last visit to Israel in 2008, will make his first trip to the Jewish State as president.
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Been a Long Time**: Barack Obama, shown here on his last visit to Israel in 2008, will make his first trip to the Jewish State as president.

By JTA

Published February 05, 2013.

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Netanyahu may have his own reasons for welcoming such a visit now. For one, a U.S. president on Israeli soil sends an unmistakable message to Israel’s enemies that America stands with Israel.

It also helps Netanyahu politically. Netanyahu emerged weakened from Israel’s Jan. 22 elections, and aides have told the Israeli media that they believe voters stayed away from the prime minister over concerns about his rapport with Obama.

The two leaders have had something of a fraught relationship. There have been philosophical differences about Israel’s settlement enterprise and the Palestinians, disagreements about the red line for Iran’s nuclear program and perceived snubs on both sides.

During a March 2010 White House meeting, Netanyahu was denied a photo opportunity with the president and Obama interrupted their meeting to eat dinner. Last year, Netanyahu gave an enthusiastic reception to Obama rival Mitt Romney during the 2012 campaign.

But the recent elections in both the United States and Israel could mark a turning point.

In recent days, Netanyahu has indicated that he wants to establish a coalition government that tends more to the center than his last government. He also has identified diplomacy with the Palestinians as one of his top priorities.

On the other side of the Atlantic, Obama’s choice for secretary of state, John Kerry, said in his Senate confirmation hearing that preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon and advancing Israeli-Palestinian peace would be his twin priorities in the job. Kerry has since announced his own plans to visit Israel next month, and among his first calls in his new job were conversations with Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

“It’s a new beginning: Obama can have a serious discussion with the Israeli prime minister at a time he’s heading a new government,” said Dennis Ross, a counsel at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who was Obama’s top Middle East adviser until a year ago.



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