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Obama to Prod Israelis, Palestinians on Peace Efforts


President Barack Obama will use his trip to Israel, the occupied West Bank, and Jordan to address Israelis and Palestinians about reviving peace efforts. Iran's nuclear program and Syria's civil war are also on the agenda.

Obama last visited Israel in 2008 as a senator and presidential candidate. Now, he returns as a two-term president, but has been unsuccessful in overcoming obstacles to Middle East peace.

He will carry no new peace initiative, but will deliver a message.

"That peace between the Israelis and Palestinians remains a priority of the president," said White House Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest. "That's something that he is - that the United States is - ready to strongly support if that dialogue is ready to take off."

The United States supports two states, Israel and Palestine, living peacefully alongside each other. But Obama's relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been strained, especially over Israeli settlements in the occupied territories.

Obama will reassure both sides that he supports their rights, and their security, says Neil Kritz of the U.S. Institute for Peace. The stakes are high.

"For this president, one of the key challenges will be at what point does a two-state solution become more difficult to achieve. He does not want to have as his legacy, being in his term the two-state solution was lost as an option," he said.

Obama was re-elected in November with 69 percent of the Jewish vote, despite Mitt Romney - his opponent - questioning his commitment to Israel.

"This president, as was shown in election after election, has been a true friend of the Jewish people, and American Jewish voters have shown him that," said Aaron Keyak, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, which was invited to a recent discussion with the president.

Eric Fusfield of B’nai Brith International calls Obama's Mideast visit an opportunity to see what is really happening on the ground.

"There is really no substitute for face-to-face contact, people at the grassroots level, seeing and feeling what's happening in Israel today," he said.

Several Arab-American groups also came to the White House, including the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. Its president, Warren David, says Arab Americans told Obama they're disappointed in the lack of progress toward a Palestinian state.

"I said point blank, I am hoping that you are going to leave a legacy, and that this is something that you will accomplish as president. And I would have to tell you that in the beginning I was very, very pessimistic, but I left being a little more optimistic because of what the president said, what his advisers said," he said.

David says Arab Americans told Obama they hope there will finally be peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
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