Scant Hope of Breakthrough as Barack Obama's Mideast Trip Looms

Many Questions But Few Answers With Israel Awaiting Visit

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By Reuters

Published March 18, 2013.
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Relations between Obama, 51, and Netanyahu, 63, have been marked by slights, mutual suspicion and outright antipathy.

Supporters of Netanyahu accuse Obama of trying to browbeat Israel into making concessions to the Palestinians, particularly over the issue of settlements. Obama supporters say Netanyahu interfered in the 2012 presidential election, overtly backing Republican challenger Mitt Romney.

In one Oval Office meeting in 2011, Netanyahu gave Obama a public lecture on Jewish history. A year later, when the Israeli leader visited the United States, Obama said he was too busy to meet him. They will try to reset their relationship this week.

Despite the fact that Obama oversaw ever-closer military ties between the two nations, he has never won the affection of ordinary Israelis, who resented the fact that he did not visit their country in his first term, but did go to Egypt and Turkey.

A poll in the Maariv daily on March 15 said 68 percent of Israelis had an unfavourable or hostile attitude towards Obama, while just 10 percent said they liked him.

Annual U.S. military aid to Israel is put at $3 billion.

UPHEAVAL CAUSES FRICTION

Regional upheaval across the Middle East has proved another source of friction between Israel and the United States over the past two years.

Israeli officials were especially incensed by what they saw as Washington’s approval for the ousting of Egypt’s former president, Hosni Mubarak, in February 2011. The late President Anwar Sadat signed the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, a pillar of Israel’s regional security strategy, in 1979.

Seen from Netanyahu’s office, U.S. policy-making in the region has been naive and failed to anticipate the rise in power of Islamist forces in one Arab nation after another.

U.S. officials argue that Washington could not have stood in the way of the march of history and believe that dialogue with the new governments that have emerged in the wake of the Arab uprisings is the only way to forge meaningful ties.

Israel would now like to see the United States play a more active role in supporting non-Islamist rebels battling President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, fearful that growing power vacuums in its northern neighbour will be filled by Jihadist militants.


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