Obama Expected to Discuss Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks in First Visit to Israel Since Elected
President Barack Obama has scheduled a visit to Israel on Mar. 20, 2013, his first trip to the country since visiting as a candidate in the lead-up to the 2008 US Presidential election. The announced trip has triggered hope for a renewed push towards a final-status peace agreement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
According to schedules leaked to the New York Times, the president plans to spend two days in Jerusalem. He is expected to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and the Mount Herzl cemetery, and give a speech, either in the Israeli Knesset (Parliament) or at a university in the area. He is also expected to speak with Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas and tour a West Bank development project with PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
The trip is expected to coincide with the United States’ release of $200 million in aid to the financially ailing PA that was withheld following Abbas’s successful bid to gain Palestine upgraded non-member observer state status at the United Nations. In anticipation of Obama’s visit and as a reward for increased security cooperation with the PA, Israel may concede partial control over some areas of the West Bank where it currently rules, or release some prisoners affiliated with the PA.
According to White House Press Secretary Jay Carney: “This is a trip the President looks forward to making that is timed in part because we have here obviously a second term for the President, a new administration, and a new government in Israel, and that’s an opportune time for a visit like this… [This trip] offers the opportunity to reaffirm the deep and enduring bonds between the United States and Israel, and to discuss the way forward on a broad range of issues of mutual concern, including of course Iran and Syria.”
“Coming is not enough,” said Mohammed Shtayyeh, a close adviser to Mr. Abbas, in a statement to the Associated Press, “We wait to see what he is carrying… The process and negotiations are not an end in themselves. The starting point is ‘how do we end the occupation?’ The ending point is ‘how do we end the occupation?’ In between is a process.”
Only four sitting presidents have visited Israel: Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter each went once, George W. Bush twice, and Bill Clinton four times. The most recent Israeli-Palestinian peace talks ended on Jan. 25, 2012 in Jordan without progress made towards a final-status peace agreement.
Peter Baker, “Obama Plans Visit to Israel This Spring,” nytimes.com, Feb. 5, 2013
Jay Carney, “Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney,” whitehouse.gov, Feb. 6, 2013
Jay Carney, “Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney,” whitehouse.gov, Feb. 5, 2013
Jerusalem Post, “Officials: Obama Visit to Prevent Strike on Iran,” jpost.com, Feb. 10, 2013
Ray Hanania, “Why an Obama Visit to Israel?,” english.alarabiya.net, Feb. 10, 2013
Jodi Rudoren, “Obama’s Plan to Visit Mideast Stirs Hopes, Slightly,” nytimes.com, Feb. 9, 2013