In his first trip to Israel since being elected president, Obama will make some symbolic stops but not others and generally avoid substantive policy talks. Instead of talking at the Knesset (Israel’s parliament), he will deliver his major address to the Israeli public at the Jerusalem International Convention Center. He will have dinner with Prime Minister Netanyahu and Miss Israel Yityish Aynaw, the first black woman to hold the title. He will visit the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem (located in the West Bank), but not at the Western Wall or Al Aqsa Mosque. He will visit the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Holocaust Museum, but declined an invitation to visit the Israeli Institute of Technology. He will also lay a wreath at the grave of the founder of modern Zionism, Theodor Herzl, and visit Jordan.
A recent poll found that the Israeli people are skeptical of President Obama, with 38% saying that Obama has revealed hostility toward Israel during his time in office. Roughly one third said they believe Obama has been supportive of Israel. An October poll found that Israelis preferred Romney to Obama 57% to 22%. This is all despite U.S. public opinion of Israel being the highest it has been since 1991, with 64% of Americans favoring Israel compared to 12% favoring “Palestine,” according to a recent Gallup poll.
The trip will be compared to the George W. Bush and Clinton visits to Israel. Bush waiting until the end of his second term to visit Israel twice in 2008. While there, he monitored and encouraged peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. He also addressed the Knesset, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, President Peres, and the Palestinian Authority President Abbas. Clinton went four times, in 1994, 1995, 1996, and 1998. His first trip marked the signing of a peace agreement between Israel and Jordan. His second was to attend the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s funeral. In his last two trips he met with senior officials.
Obama’s visit will be less ambitious and attempt to garner better public relations with the Israeli people, rather than move any substantial policies forward. His decision to speak directly to the Israeli public instead of the Knesset is a strong indication of this. The question is whether he will be well received by the public, after four years of a rocky relationship.
The New York Times, Obama’s Israel Itinerary Includes Some Standard Stops, but Not Others: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/14/world/middleeast/obamas-israel-itinerary-includes-some-standard-stops-but-not-others.html?partner=rss&emc=rss&smid=tw-nytimes&_r=0
Reuters, Obama Tries New Tact with Israel, Appealing to Wary Public: http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/03/14/us-usa-israel-obama-idUSBRE92D06O20130314
The Christian Science Monitor, Obama’s Israel Agenda: http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Global-News/2013/0314/Obama-s-Israel-agenda-negotiate-visit-sites-and-dine-with-beauty-queen
The Embassy of Israel to the United States, Past Presidential Visits to Israel: http://www.israelemb.org/washington/Obama_in_Israel/Past_Presidential_Visits_to_Israel/Pages/Past_Presidential_Visits_to_Israel.aspx
The New York Times, Obama’s Visit to Israel Renews Effort to Free Spy: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/18/world/middleeast/push-to-free-jonathan-pollard-as-obamas-israel-visit-nears.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
Politico, President Obama in Israel: http://www.politico.com/story/2013/03/obama-in-israel-symbolism-over-substance-88969.html
Gallup, American’s Sympathies for Israel Match All-Time High: http://www.gallup.com/poll/161387/americans-sympathies-israel-match-time-high.aspx
The Algemeiner, Slim Majority of Israelis are Skeptical of Obama’s View of Israel: http://www.algemeiner.com/2013/03/15/poll-slim-majority-of-israelis-are-skeptical-of-obamas-view-of-israel/?cb=08303249736782163#
The Wall Street Journal, Obama Begins First Visit to Israel as President: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323419104578371972690031906.html?mod=WSJ_hps_LEFTTopStories
The Washington Post, Obama Begins Israel Visit by Viewing Iron Dome Battery: http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/obama-arrives-in-israel-for-three-day-visit/2013/03/20/a01774aa-914f-11e2-9abd-e4c5c9dc5e90_story.html?hpid=z2