Hope for negotiations rises at new start with Kerry and Obama visit to Israel
President Obama, who has announced his first visit to Israel as President (1st, Ynet) with his nominee for Secretary of State, John Kerry. Kerry is said to have a single-minded passion to reach a 2-state solution (2nd , Ynet). The New York Times, 3rd, is less optimistic.
There’s no such thing as a free lunch
It is no coincidence that White House announced Obama visit as Netanyahu tries to form new coalition
Orly Azoulay, Op-ed, Ynet news
February 06, 2013
People who are familiar with the codes in Washington know that in this town there are no free lunches. The president of a superpower does not visit a country overseas without knowing that the results of the trip have been assured ahead of time to his satisfaction and in accordance with his interests. Obama has decided to visit Israel because he understood from Netanyahu last week that a two-state solution is possible.
The president and his advisors do not really believe Netanyahu and are not concealing their suspicion towards him. But as far as they are concerned, Netanyahu actually lost the recent elections and will therefore do whatever is asked of him. He has no choice.
Obama is coming in order to apply pressure on Netanyahu’s weak point after the people of Israel have spoken and after America’s fear that Israel was shifting to the right proved to be, for the most part, unfounded.
The fact that the White House announced the visit at a time when coalition negotiations in Israel are ongoing is not coincidental. The US is signaling to Lapid and Livni that this is the time to jump on the bandwagon and be a part of the next government, because the president is serious: He is not seeking revenge; nor is he indifferent; Obama is coming to Israel to complete the mission, and he needs them in the coalition.
Secretary of State John Kerry, who will be touring the region before Obama, is showing extraordinary enthusiasm about the possibility of establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Obama had his doubts, but they have diminished somewhat. As far as Obama is concerned, Netanyahu is the prime minister, but he is no longer king.
Obama will come to Jerusalem to speak to the Israeli public above Netanyahu’s head. He will try to charm the Israeli public and allay its security-related concerns. He will give the Israelis what they crave for: A big hug from a foreign leader and an almost limitless line of credit.
After winning the hearts of the people, Obama will get down to business. His mission: Renew the alliance with the Israeli public and clarify to Netanyahu that playtime is over. He does not intend to let up until white smoke appears.
Analysis: Unlike Obama, top US diplomat has not lost faith in stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process
Yitzhak Benhorin, Ynet news
February 07, 2013
WASHINGTON – Despite the fact that many people believed Obama would take his revenge on Netanyahu for his blatant intervention in the American elections and try to influence the results of the Israeli elections, the US president did not intervene. But the establishment of the next Israeli government is another matter. Officials in Washington openly expressed their satisfaction with Yesh Atid’s success, with many in the US capital saying that the Israeli public was not as extreme as some were making it out to be.
Now, according to the Americans, Israel needs to form a coalition that will allow it to conduct peace negotiations. The US is not intervening in the coalition talks themselves, but it has clarified to the person who is in charge of the talks that it will not allow the diplomatic process to be put on the back burner. This is why new Secretary of State John Kerry phoned Netanyahu and Abbas as soon as he was sworn in. He also held several other phone conversations to discuss burning issues with the foreign ministers of Japan, Canada and Turkey, but the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is at the top of his agenda.
On Friday CNN reported that Kerry plans to visit Israel and Egypt in the coming weeks. The visit may be postponed in order to give Netanyahu ample time to form a coalition, but the message is clear – Kerry plans to work personally to jumpstart the peace process, and he will certainly visit the region more than his predecessor Hillary Clinton did.
Kerry is focused, say those who have spoken to him about the Middle East, and about Israel in particular. He is 18 years older than Obama, and unlike the president, he has been familiar with Israel since the Six Day War and was even involved in the peace process (Oslo Accords and the Madrid Conference). He is sentimental when it comes to Israel and is interested in everything that goes on in the Jewish state. He is very warm towards Israel, in part due to his grandfather’s Jewish background and due to the fact that his brother Cameron converted to Judaism and is an active member of the Jewish community.
“I will never step back from my commitment to the State of Israel (or) from the plight of Palestinians,” Kerry said during his Senate confirmation hearing. During a visit to Israel two years ago, Kerry met with a group of Israeli intellectuals and pundits, in addition to his meetings with senior officials. It is said that he likes to listen and learn. The first conversation he held after being sworn in was with former Secretary of State George Shultz.
At this point President Obama does not want to invest too much effort in a failed process, but Kerry is driven and believes he can jumpstart the peace talks. He is signaling to Israel and the PA that Washington will not let up and has clarified that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would help solve other American problems in the Mideast and other regions, including North Africa, the Persian Gulf and South Asia.
“So much of what we aspire to achieve and what we need to do globally, what we need to do in the Maghreb and South Asia, South Central Asia, throughout the Gulf, all of this is tied to what can or doesn’t happen with respect to Israel-Palestine,” he said at his confirmation hearing. “And in some places it’s used as an excuse. In other places it’s a genuine, deeply felt challenge.”
Kerry also believes that time is running out on the two-state solution. “We need to try to find a way forward, and I happen to believe that there is a way forward,” Kerry said just a few days before his appointment was confirmed.
“But I also believe that if we can’t be successful that the door, or window, or whatever you want to call it, to the possibility of a two-state solution could shut on everybody and that would be disastrous in my judgment.”
By Peter Baker, NY Times
February 05, 2013
WASHINGTON — President Obama plans to travel to Israel this spring for the first time since taking office, as he and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu try to move past the friction of the last four years now that both have won re-election.
By making Israel a stop on the first overseas trip of his second term, Mr. Obama hopes to demonstrate support for the Jewish state despite doubts among some of its backers. But the trip also seems designed to signal a new start in a fraught relationship rather than an ambitious effort to revive a stalled peace process.
“The start of the president’s second term and the formation of a new Israeli government offer the opportunity to reaffirm the deep and enduring bonds between the United States and Israel,” Jay Carney, the White House spokesman, said Tuesday, “and to discuss the way forward on a broad range of issues of mutual concern, including, of course, Iran and Syria.”
Mr. Carney said Mr. Obama would also travel to Jordan and the West Bank. The Israeli news media reported that Mr. Obama would arrive on March 20, but the White House would not discuss any dates for the trip.
Mr. Netanyahu’s office said a visit by the president would be “an important opportunity to underscore the friendship and strong partnership between Israel and the United States.”
The relationship between the two leaders has been edgy for years over issues like Israel’s settlements in the West Bank and ways to stop Iran’s nuclear program.
While Mr. Obama won a clear victory in November, Mr. Netanyahu emerged from elections last month in a weakened state. His party won enough seats for him to retain office, but he will be forced to recruit centrist lawmakers for a coalition that might temper his policies. He has until March 16 to present his new government.
Mr. Obama is not expected to unveil concrete proposals for bringing Israelis and Palestinians together during his visit or initiate a specific new peace process. But advisers hope that just by showing up and talking about these issues, Mr. Obama will show that he is not walking away from them.
Dennis Ross, a former Middle East adviser to Mr. Obama, attributed the trip to “a desire to connect with the Israeli public at a time when he can go and not have high expectations about having to produce something.”
The president “can create a new beginning with the same prime minister but with a new Israeli government,” Mr. Ross said.
Some peace advocates welcomed the trip but said it should go beyond atmospherics. “The key is, they’ve got to use this as a real substantive jumping off point for a serious diplomatic initiative,” said Jeremy Ben-Ami, the president of J Street, a Washington advocacy group. “This has to be more than a photo op to show that he cares.”
A former Israeli defense official said the trip’s announcement might have been timed to send a message to Israelis and even influence the composition of the next government amid talk of restarting the peace effort. The former official said a more centrist government would allow the sides more room to maneuver.
Also on the agenda this trip will be Iran and the continuing strife in Syria that threatens to descend into a wider regional conflict. Israel last week struck a convoy of antiaircraft weapons inside Syria that it feared was being moved to Hezbollah forces.
“The United States can put an end to the Iranian threat,” President Shimon Peres of Israel said in an address to Parliament on Tuesday, “and I believe that the president of the United States is determined to do it.”
While Mr. Obama visited Israel in 2008 as a candidate, he did not travel there during his first term, a fact that became fodder on the campaign trail last year. A television commercial from a group called the Emergency Committee for Israel said Mr. Obama had “traveled all over the Middle East but he hasn’t found time to visit our ally and friend, Israel.” Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee, ran his own advertisement criticizing the president for not going to Israel.
Only four sitting presidents have visited Israel: Richard M. Nixon and Jimmy Carter each went once, George W. Bush twice, and Bill Clinton four times. Mr. Bush, considered one of the strongest friends Israel has had in the Oval Office, did not visit until 2008, near the end of his presidency.
Isabel Kershner contributed reporting from Jerusalem.