After nearly four years of often testy relations with Benjamin Netanyahu, President Barack Obama is about to try a different tack - going over the head of Israel’s prime minister and appealing directly to the Israeli people.
Obama’s first presidential visit to Israel next week, while certainly including meetings with Netanyahu, will focus heavily on resetting his relationship with the country’s wary public as he seeks to reassure them he is committed to their security and has their interests at heart.
All signs are that Obama hopes the strategy will give him more leverage with the right-wing Netanyahu - politically weakened by January’s election in which centrists made surprising gains - to pursue a peaceful resolution with Iran and eventually address the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate.
But it will be no easy task.
Obama faces the challenge of overcoming Israeli suspicions that have lingered since his early days in office when he pressed Netanyahu for a freeze on settlement expansion and launched a short-lived outreach to Tehran, Israel’s arch-foe.
On top of that, Obama - known for his cool, detached public persona - rarely comes across with the kind of “I feel your pain” diplomacy that Bill Clinton used to charm Israelis and Palestinians alike during his presidency.
Even so, some Middle East experts say Obama may be able to take advantage of an opening to build public confidence in Israel, the first foreign destination of his second term.
His visit comes at a time when U.S. and Israeli strategic concerns seem more closely aligned than they have been in years, with the West’s nuclear standoff with Iran at a critical stage and Syria’s civil war seen as a threat to regional stability.
“There’s no substitute for actually being there,” said Dennis Ross, Obama’s former Middle East adviser. “It’s an opportunity for him to connect with the Israeli psyche.”