News / Middle East

Obama in Mideast - Substance and Symbolism

President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be meeting in Jerusalem on Wednesday. They are pictured here meeting in 2011.
President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be meeting in Jerusalem on Wednesday. They are pictured here meeting in 2011.
Mohamed Elshinnawi
As President Barack Obama arrives in Israel on the first leg of his Middle East trip next week, many Israelis are hoping his visit will reaffirm his commitment to Israel. And when he visits the Palestinian city of Ramallah, many Palestinians are expecting a clear U.S. commitment to creation of an independent Palestinian state.
 
The president himself has signaled he will not be unveiling any great diplomatic initiatives during the trip, and Middle East experts, as well as Arab and Jewish-American leaders, have scaled back their expectations accordingly.
 
James Zogby, president of the Arab-American Institute, says those lower expectations may be wise because the difficulties that frustrated Mr. Obama’s efforts during his first four-year presidential term still exist today. He says these include difficult political situations in both Israel and the Palestinian territories and a political environment in Washington that gives the president little room to maneuver.
 
The visit beginning on Wednesday will be Mr. Obama’s first to Israel as president, and Ken Jacobson, deputy national director of the Jewish Anti-Defamation League, expects it may turn out to be largely symbolic.
 
“I do not expect any major particular development…,” Jacobson says, adding that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is still pulling together a governing coalition after divisive parliamentary elections. “The most important thing is to reassure the Israeli public that they have a friend in the White House.”
 
Jacobson suggests the visit should help ease distrust that developed when President Obama did not visit Israel after his 2009 speech in Cairo appealing for better relations between the U.S. and the Muslim world.
 
The right message
 
Both Arab and Jewish-American leaders emphasized the need to use the trip to deliver the right message to both the Israelis and the Palestinians.
 
“He needs to say that peace is in the interest of both sides and that the U.S. will be there to help,” Jacobson said. “If the Israelis were reassured that the president will continue the special relationship and be a fair interlocutor in any peace process, that will encourage the Israelis, and hopefully the Palestinians, to consider moving down the road.”
 
James Zogby says more is needed. He says the president should to go beyond the politicians and appeal directly to the Israeli and Palestinian people.
 
“The president should reach out to both publics, as President Clinton did in 1998, by going over the heads of the leaders,” Zogby said. “Obama should speak directly to them saying, ‘This is the support the U.S. will give to you, but this is what we need from you.’”
 
Stops President Barack Obama is making on his trip to the middle east, March 20-22.Stops President Barack Obama is making on his trip to the middle east, March 20-22.
x
Stops President Barack Obama is making on his trip to the middle east, March 20-22.
Stops President Barack Obama is making on his trip to the middle east, March 20-22.
The White House has not given advance notice of the president’s expectations, and Secretary of State John Kerry has described the stops in Jerusalem, Ramallah and Amman, Jordan as a regional listening tour. But Marwan Muasher, a former Jordanian foreign minister and now a scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, says the time for listening is over.
 
“There is a window of only a few months until the hope for a two-state solution is lost for good,” Muasher says, referring to the idea of creating Palestine as an independent nation alongside Israel.
 
To get the diplomacy moving, Muasher says, President Obama needs to develop strong personal ties with the leaders in the region.
 
“It is no secret that Obama and Netanyahu have had a rocky relationship over the years,” he says, “so they need to mend their personal ties and give a positive impression during the visit.”
 
What comes next?
 
President Obama has said he will not present a U.S. peace plan while in the Middle East, raising the question, what will he do when he returns to the White House?
 
Zogby expects the president to formulate an “American peace initiative” within the year, taking into consideration both Israeli and Palestinian concerns. Zogby suggests that in order for the U.S. to lead a successful peacemaking effort in the Middle East, President Obama should encourage Palestinian reconciliation, using Qatar’s efforts to persuade the Palestinian political and militant group, Hamas, to be a partner in the peace efforts.
 
Muasher is less optimistic this will happen.
 
“The peace process is low on Obama’s list of priorities, and there are no indications that Washington will make any concerted effort to find a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict,” he said.
 
Jacobson of the Anti-Defamation League says the Obama administration should refrain from applying too much pressure to achieve peace.
 
“That is not the way things happen in a positive way,” he said. “Peace proposals should come out of willingness and eagerness, and not by some perception of pressure from the U.S. Pressure from the U.S. ends up sending the wrong message, both sides have to make concessions, both sides have to compromise.”

You May Like

How to Safeguard Your Mobile Privacy

As the digital world becomes more mobile, so too do concerns about eroding privacy and increased hacking More

'Desert Dancer' Chronicles Iranian Underground Dance Troupe

Film by Richard Raymond is based on true story of Afshin Ghaffarian and his friends More

Obesity Poses Complex Problem

Professor warns of obesity’s worldwide health impact More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Siddha Tali
March 18, 2013 9:55 AM
Looking for today...

by: Ron Matar from: Australia
March 17, 2013 4:23 AM
I think Dr Hanz F.comment would have been nearer to the truth if he had said "Now Israel has got America firmly in its pocket its time to set sights on conditioning one of the European Countries and Germany with its guilt complex to exploit is the ideal target" and after all both countries do have something in common for the Israel of today is fast becoming the Germany of yesteryear.

by: Dr Hanz F. from: Germany
March 16, 2013 3:48 PM
the truth is that Israel has begun the transition away from the US. The Obama presidency has been proven to be a monumental disappointment both to the US and Israel alike. Germany and Israel has never been closer and we are growing ever closer by the day.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam Wari
X
Katherine Gypson
May 25, 2015 1:32 AM
For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.
Video

Video On Film: How Dance Defies Iran's Political Oppression

'Desert Dancer' by filmmaker Richard Raymond is based on the true story of a group of young Iranians, who form an underground dance troupe in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the latest in a genre of films that focus on dance as a form of freedom of expression against political oppression and social injustice. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Turkey's Ruling Party Trying to Lure Voters in Opposition Stronghold

Turkey’s AK (Justice and Development) Party is seeking a fourth successive general election victory, with the goal of securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and change the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. To achieve that, the party will need to win seats in opposition strongholds like the western city of Izmir. Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.
Video

Video Scientists Testing Space Propulsion by Light

Can the sun - the heart of our solar system - power a spacecraft to the edge of our solar system? The answer may come from a just-launched small satellite designed to test the efficiency of solar sail propulsion. Once deployed, its large sail will catch the so-called solar wind and slowly reach what scientists hope to be substantial speed. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video FIFA Trains Somali Referees

As stability returns to the once lawless nation of Somalia, the world football governing body, FIFA, is helping to rebuild the country’s sport sector by training referees as well as its young footballers. Abdulaziz Billow has more from Mogadishu.
Video

Video With US Child Obesity Rates on the Rise, Program Promotes Health Eating

In its fifth year, FoodCorps puts more than 180 young Americans into 500 schools across the United States, where they focus on teaching students about nutrition, engaging them with hands-on activities, and improving their access to healthy foods whether in the cafeteria or the greater community. Aru Pande has more.
Video

Video Virginia Neighborhood Draws People to Nostalgic Main Street

In the U.S., people used to grow up in small towns with a main street lined by family-owned shops and restaurants. Today, however, many main streets are worn down and empty because shoppers have been lured away by shopping malls. But in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia, main street is thriving. VOA’s Deborah Block reports it has a nostalgic feel with its small restaurants and unique stores.

VOA Blogs