Barack Obama Plans To Launch Charm Offensive Aimed at Israeli Public

Can the Great Communicator Connect With Skeptical Nation?

Putting on the Charm: Barack Obama is planning to take his message — and his famed charm — directly to the Israeli public.
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Putting on the Charm: Barack Obama is planning to take his message — and his famed charm — directly to the Israeli public.

By Reuters

Published March 14, 2013.
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“He (Obama) has to speak to the emotions of people because there has been a loss of faith  in our relations with the United States,” said Itay Bar, a student at Ben-Gurion University, where tickets for a Jerusalem speech by Obama were distributed. Bar was speaking on Israel’s Army Radio.

Obama’s visit is being choreographed to present him as a good friend of Israel. The White House has yet to officially announce the dates, but Israeli media say he will arrive next Wednesday.

Photo opportunities are expected at sites evoking the country’s biblical past, its founding Zionist movement and the Holocaust. Obama could also inspect an Iron Dome missile battery, a U.S.-funded system that protected Israel from Hamas rockets during a brief Gaza war in November, Israeli media reports.

But the centerpiece will be Obama’s televised speech to university students, reportedly set for Jerusalem’s convention center, which an aide said would be the president’s chance to “have a conversation with the Israeli people.”

To be sure, Obama has no intention of trying to cut Netanyahu out of the picture. With both leaders starting new terms, they may have come to the realization they are stuck with each other - and this is a chance for a new chapter.

Obama’s decision to hold off on any new Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative will prevent the thorny issue from dominating the agenda at a time when negotiating prospects are dim and Israelis are more focused on what many see as a looming existential threat from Iran.

Some Israelis are still likely to bristle if Obama publicly challenges them to take “hard steps” for peace, as he told the American Jewish leaders he would.

READY TO TURN THE PAGE?

Netanyahu, who has been deep in political talks on assembling a governing coalition, is on the same page with Obama about making a successful show of the president’s trip, which will also include a brief visit to the occupied West Bank to meet Palestinian leaders and a final stop in Jordan.

Obama is looking to counter Republican opponents who accused him during the 2012 campaign of “throwing Israel under the bus.”

Netanyahu wants to show Israelis, who like their leaders to be assertive with Washington but not on bad terms with it, that he can still do business with Israel’s superpower ally.

Netanyahu made no secret of his preference for Republican challenger Mitt Romney before last year’s U.S. election, and some Israelis wonder whether Obama may want to settle scores. But Netanyahu was not alone. A poll in October found Israelis preferred Romney by 57 percent to 22 percent.

Nonetheless, many Israelis regard Obama as a solid ally, especially after Washington backed them in the Hamas conflict and staunchly opposed recent Palestinian statehood bids at the United Nations.

Some Israeli lawmakers had called on Obama to address the country’s parliament. But the Knesset is renowned for eruptions of heckling and shouting. The White House opted to steer clear.


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