Barack Obama Jets Out of Israel on High Note After Surprise Diplomatic Win

Turkey Breakthrough Caps Trip — Palestinians Grumble

Hasta La Vista: Barack Obama leaves Israel after a trip that analysts called a success — although expectations were set deliberately low.
getty images
Hasta La Vista: Barack Obama leaves Israel after a trip that analysts called a success — although expectations were set deliberately low.

By Reuters

Published March 22, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Multi Page

President Barack Obama flew out of Israel in a duststorm on Friday, leaving behind a trail of symbolic gestures and fine oratory that should help preserve the status quo at a time of regional upheaval.

In an unexpected diplomatic flourish, he also facilitated a surprise telephone call between the prime ministers of Israel and Turkey, putting two U.S. allies firmly on track to revive a once close relationship that had become badly frayed.

Obama set such low expectations for the three-day trip that he can easily proclaim it is mission accomplished, having wooed sceptical Israelis, eased their fears over Iran and shown Palestinians that he had not forgotten their aspirations.

True, many Palestinians remained disillusioned, feeling that Obama had buckled to Israeli pressure and backtracked from his previous demands for a halt to Jewish settlement building in the occupied West Bank on land they want for a future state.

But after a bruising first term of failed Middle East diplomacy, Obama’s prime concern seems to be that the situation does not get any worse, while keeping alive slender hopes that a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian peace deal is still possible.

“This visit marks a resumption of American attention to the conflict, which is very important after two years of utter absence from the scene,” said Ghassan al-Khatib, an academic and a former Palestinian government spokesman.

“It probably won’t lead to any new negotiations, which in any case would be meaningless given the huge gulf between the two sides. But it might bring some accountability to the Israelis.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared highly satisfied by the public show of joviality displayed by Obama during their meetings, dispelling the frosty scowls and sniping that marked encounters over the previous four years.

“The atmosphere was much better than in all their meetings before,” said a senior Israeli official. “He gave the impression that he really wanted to start afresh,” he said of Obama.

IRAN CONNECTIONS

Obama has already spent more time talking to Netanyahu than to any other world leader, according to the White House, and the pair put several more hours on the clock through this week.

Iran topped their initial agenda, aides said, with Obama seeking to build mutual trust and convince Israel that he was serious when he said he would not let Iran get nuclear weapons.

As a joint news conference on Wednesday, Netanyahu repeated that Israel had a right to defend its own national interests, but added that he was “absolutely convinced” Obama meant what he said - a strong statement seen as significant by some analysts.

“Now I think there is almost complete understanding between Israel and the United States on the Iranian issue,” said Amotz Asa-El, fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem.

“Specifically, they are waiting to see if the June election in Iran ignites some kind of social upheaval, a prospect that both Washington and Jerusalem obviously prefer,” he added, referring to a mid-year presidential poll.

Israel and Western powers believe Iran is looking to prepare a nuclear arsenal - something Tehran denies, while defending its right to enrich uranium for civil uses. Netanyahu has set a “red line” across Iran’s progress on enrichment, which he has said could be crossed in the spring or summer - hinting at unilateral military action unless the Islamic republic backs down.

Giora Eiland, a retired general and former Israeli national security adviser, said the prospect of such an attack was receding: “I think that the option still exists,” he said, “But that every day that passes lowers its chances of success.”

Reflecting Israel’s isolation in a largely hostile region, Obama engineered a call between Netanyahu and his Turkish counterpart on Friday, enabling the two U.S. allies to overcome a diplomatic crisis sparked by the deaths of nine Turks in 2010 during an Israeli commando raid off the Gaza Strip.

The move to normalise relations with a NATO member state that was one of its few Muslim friends in the region could help coordination to contain spillover from the Syrian civil war.

“Given what we see in the Middle East, we see a situation in which our relations with Turkey can be very, very important for the future, regarding what happens with Syria, but not just what happens with Syria,” said a source in Netanyahu’s office.

PALESTINIAN STALEMATE

Yet if the tensions with Turkey unexpectedly eased, Obama’s visit did little to raise hopes that the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict was any nearer resolution.

Going over the heads of Israeli leaders, who have questioned whether they have a viable negotiating partner on the other side of the separation barrier that twists through the West Bank, Obama appealed directly to ordinary citizens to push for change.

In a powerful speech to appreciative students, the U.S. president warned on Thursday that the Jewish state risked growing international isolation without a peace accord.

However, he did not bring any proposals on how to resume negotiations, which broke down in 2010, and he backed away from a previous demand for Israel to end settlement building, simply calling the construction an impediment to peace.

He promised that his new secretary of state, John Kerry, would dedicate much time and energy to the problem, but many Israelis saw his comments as a sign Washington would distance itself from a diplomatic quagmire familiar to his predecessors.

“The era when the USA pushed Israel and the Palestinians into a political process is gone,” said Gidi Grinstein, president of the Reut Institute, a Tel Aviv-based think tank.

“In the absence of American vision and strategy, considering Obama’s priorities and with the present positions of Israel and the Palestinians, the USA is basically saying: ‘You call us. We won’t call you’,” he added.

Although Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas welcomed Obama’s speech, some of his political allies were more damning.

“Obama’s visit provides no clear way forward for a serious solution to the conflict,” said Wasel Abu Yousef of the Palestine Liberation Organisation. “It seems the U.S. is not interested in solving the conflict, but rather managing it.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • Real exodus? For Mimi Minsky, it's screaming kids and demanding hubby on way down to Miami, not matzo in the desert.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.