Barack Obama To Pay Homage to Jewish History, Avoid Settlement Debate in Israel

President Plans Visit to Herzl's Grave, and Scrolls Exhibit

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By Reuters

Published March 19, 2013.
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President Barack Obama will embrace Jewish history while skirting the morass of West Bank settlements when he visits Israel this week - a selective itinerary laden with diplomatic signals.

The tour, running from Wednesday to Friday, is meant to warm Israelis to the cool-tempered, second-term Democratic leader who is prodding their rightist prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to hold fire on Iran and make way for a Palestinian state.

Some in Israel smart at the fact Obama took this long to come and that in a speech in Cairo in 2009, he appeared to argue that the legitimacy of Jewish sovereignty in the Middle East stemmed from the Holocaust - a European calamity foreign to many Arabs.

Obama will pay his respects at the grave in Jerusalem of Theodor Herzl, the Zionist visionary who died more than four decades before the 1948 founding of Israel. Reaching back further, he will view ancient Jewish parchments at Israel’s main museum.

Known as the Dead Sea Scrolls, they were discovered in the West Bank - today occupied by the Israelis, who see the land as their biblical birthright. The United States says the land should be part of an independent Palestine.

Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, said that the scrolls were “written 2,000 years ago by Jews, in Hebrew, in their homeland, the Land of Israel”.

Obama’s viewing of them will convey a message to the world about the Jewish state’s deep roots in the Middle East.

“This is not a country that fell out of the sky after the Holocaust. This is a country that is truly rooted in the region, and it is permanent and it is legitimate,” Oren told Israel’s Channel Two television.

In an interview with the same station last week, Obama recognised “the fundamental right of Israel to be secure as a homeland of the Jewish people, and its connection to the land”.

The United States, like most other world powers, has spoken out against Jewish settlements in the West Bank, which Obama suggested were hardening Palestinian hostility to Israel.


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