Sunday, February 10, 2013

Obama's Visit To Israel: More Carrot Than Stick?

It's pretty rare for sitting presidents to visit Israel. Only four have done so since the state of Israel was created (Nixon, Carter, Clinton and George W. Bush).
Aaron David Miller

Aaron David Miller, a former Middle East negotiator in both Democratic and Republican administrations, sets out to explain Why Obama is visiting Israel.

One obvious goal of the visit is going to be to mend the relationship between Obama and Netanyahu, both in terms of fixing the relationship itself as well as projecting to the world -- especially the Muslim world -- a new and united alliance between the US and Israel.

Why would Obama be going so soon in his second term to Israel? As opposed to his first term, when Obama's trip to the Muslim world set up all kinds of expectations -- which were not realized, Miller sees Obama's trip to Israel timed in order to avoid any kind of expectations.

Which of course has not stopped some in the media from creating expectations that the goal of the trip is to address Israel-Palestinian peace talks and inject new life, and new unilateral Israeli concessions, into them.

Miller does see the peace talks as being an obvious topic, seeing how badly Obama failed in that regard during his first 4 years. However, there is also the issue of a nuclear Iran:
Obama needs to reassure Netanyahu that if the Israelis give him time and space to pursue diplomacy with Iran and that talking fails, the United States will stop Iran from weaponizing with military force. In the interim, Obama needs to hear that Netanyahu won't complicate his life by pushing high-profile settlement activity and that Israel will agree to negotiate in good faith on some of the final status issues such as security and territory. In return, Obama will not press Netanyahu on the identity issues, Jerusalem and refugees for now.
The question is how far Obama is really prepared to go to stop Iran and whether Obama can convince Israel of his commitment preventing a nuclear Iran.

On the other hand, the way Miller phrases what Obama should expect from Netanyahu regarding settlement issues -- how realistic is that, considering Israel's strategy in the face of Abbas's success in upgrading membership status in the UN, especially considering Obama's failure to apply solid US pressure to stop it. Miller sees the key being the elections, where a more centrist coalition may give Obama the restraint in settlement activity that Obama wants, along with what Obama wants in terms of "flexibility."

Miller sees Obama as a the first in a new generation of US presidents:
Obama is our first post-"Exodus" president. Leon Uris' 1958 novel, "Exodus," and the 1960 movie version were heroic portrayals of pre-state Israelis in the aftermath of the Nazi genocide confronting insensitive British and fanatic Arabs. Obama was 6 at the time of Israel's stunning victory in the 1967 war. He doesn't relate emotionally to the underdog tropes of Israel as the embattled nation, and grew up in an academic world where being supportive of Israel really wasn't all that important. Unlike the movie "Exodus," to Obama, the Israelis aren't the stalwart cowboys outgunned and outnumbered by the Palestinian Indians.
Read the whole thing.

But all that is needed is for Obama to demonstrate that he "gets it," something that Obama has arguably failed to do thus far. His repeated -- yet vague -- statements about commitment to Israel's security have played well enough here in the US. In Israel, however, they are unconvinced.

Which is why we may see Obama carrying more of a carrot than a stick when he visits Israel next month.

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