President Barack Obama will arrive in Israel next week for a visit that has been preceded by a series of careful preparations to lower people’s expectations – if they still had any – that a breakthrough in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict was in the offing.
A virtual storm of reports and speculation in the run-up to the visit has steadily maintained the following line: The visit by Obama will take him to Israel, Palestine and Jordan, but two countries that are not on the itinerary will be the focus of the trip, namely Syria and Iran.
Obama’s talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli officials will likely tackle their countries’ approach to the Iranian nuclear program, as well as the fluid situation in war-torn Syria.
According to some media reports, the American president will also try to outflank his administration’s testy relations with the Netanyahu government by adopting a new approach: going “over” Netanyahu’s head and connecting directly with the Israeli people. The speculation is that Obama will convey Washington’s support for Israel, but not necessarily for its current government.
While some believe that this could be Obama’s chance to drum up support for the peace process with the Israeli public, the likelier tactic is one of trying to ease fears that he is not fully behind the Jewish state.
Thus, the visiting Americans will presumably do their utmost to convince the Israelis, whether they are officials or ordinary people, that Washington intends to continue its massive program of assistance for Israel, and ensure that the Jewish state retains its much-coveted military superiority in the region.
This is why the Palestinians should be aware that for them, the visit is tantamount to political tourism. Obama has zero credibility when it comes to the two-state solution, after he spent the early months of his presidency touting the objective of meaningful peace negotiations. After those heady days, the Obama White House sat firmly in the back seat as Netanyahu’s government pursued violence against the Gaza Strip, and continued its all-out effort to ensure that there would be less and less to negotiate over with the Palestinians.
There is little to nothing to be expected from this visit, other than the standard formulas about the need for a peaceful resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
No American president, under the current circumstances, is going to risk any political capital by moving forward with peace efforts; American officials are busy dealing with domestic economic problems, the global economic situation, and when it comes to the Middle East, Iran and the repercussions of Arab uprisings.
The Palestinians will only enter the political itinerary of the visit if they take concrete steps to relink the West Bank and Gaza, and bury the destructive divisions that have sidelined their cause for years.