Obama’s Visit to Middle East Has Difficulty Reaching Goals

On March 20, U.S. President Barack Obama arrived in Israel and will also visit Palestine and Jordan during his three-day trip. The purpose of Obama’s visit is to strengthen U.S.-Israeli relations and discuss the Iranian nuclear issue, the situation in Syria and Palestinian-Israeli peace talks. Obama arrived at Ben Gurion International Airport at noon, took a tour of Tel Aviv near the Iron Dome anti-missile interceptor system and then went to Jerusalem to meet with President Shimon Peres and speak with the recently re-appointed Benjamin Netanyahu, third-time Israeli prime minister. It is reported that Obama’s itinerary included speeches to Knesset and at the International Convention Center.

Obama has the entire globe’s attention, as this is the first foreign trip of his second term and the first trip to this region during his presidency. The media reported that Obama’s difficult task is to “reset U.S.-Israeli relations” and restore mutual trust with a close ally. During Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, he worked for more votes from Jewish voters. After becoming president, on his first visit to the Middle East, in 2009, he bypassed Israel, visiting Egypt and Saudi Arabia instead. In Cairo, he proposed a peace plan for a greater Middle East, stating that the U.S. would never be at war with Islamic countries, and that he wanted to open a new course of bilateral talks about recognizing the settlement and legitimacy of Israel. Not visiting Israel during his first four-year term is extremely rare for a U.S. president in the history of U.S.-Israeli relations. Garnering even more attention, Obama and Netanyahu talked about the Iranian nuclear issue and settling their differences. During Netanyahu’s visit to the White House, the two did not see eye to eye and parted on bad terms. The U.S. stressed that Iran’s possession of nuclear weapons is not allowed, but a political settlement has not been reached yet. He also insisted that Iran’s nuclear capabilities are the red line, stressing that only sanctions and deterrence work. The opinion polls show that two-thirds of people have a good impression of Obama.

Although both U.S. and Israeli leaders emphasized the bilateral development of their relationship, the shadow of bilateral relations will undoubtedly be cast over the interests of both sides. The Israeli side will see Obama’s visit as an opportunity to bridge the relationship and heal old wounds. Israel made a public announcement early on, stressing that close ties between the U.S. and Israel will not be shaken. Code-named “unbreakable allies” and using a combination of red and blue, a welcome flag for Obama’s visit was selected via Internet voting. A few days prior, Obama had expressed that allowing Iran to possess nuclear weapons was the red line. The media commented that Obama’s aim is to show the common good.

In contrast, the reaction of the Israeli people to Obama’s visit was more distant: They felt that the symbolism of the trip was more important than the trip itself. Pakistani people had lower expectations. They believe that the U.S. is siding with Israel and Obama’s lack of grief at Yasser Arafat’s death was disrespectful. There were demonstrations against Obama’s visit. In Gaza, Hamas criticized Obama for showing off. The U.S. stressed that this will not provide a new peace initiative, but media reports revealed that the U.S-Israel-Palestinian tripartite is moving toward improving the atmosphere and pushing for peace talks. Major turmoil in the Middle East has had an impact on the dominance of the U.S. in the region. In order to maintain its U.S. global strategy, Obama faces pressure to fine-tune Middle East policy. It is naturally difficult for him to reach his goals.

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