Obama to make first trip to Israel, part of a potential ‘new beginning’ with region


President Obama will travel to Israel and the occupied Palestinians territories next month for an early second-term push for peace negotiations between two divided governments and to assess the broader political changes remaking the Middle East.

It will be Obama’s first trip as president to Israel, where suspicions run high in the aftermath of his unsuccessful early efforts at Middle East peacemaking.

Obama’s choice of destination — one he avoided in his first term — suggests a revival of his ambitions abroad after a year of virtual dormancy on foreign affairs. The timing also points to a new willingness from Obama to quickly re-engage a politically volatile foreign policy issue just months after winning his final presidential election.

But the visit will highlight how much the region has changed with the rise of several Islamist governments and the widening repercussions of civil revolt since he last visited the Middle East during his first year in office.

After helping topple Moammar Gaddafi in Libya almost two years ago, many in the region wondered when Obama would emerge again to help shape the outcome of the tumultuous Arab Spring, which has already replaced a pair of U.S.-allied dictatorships with elected Islamist governments.

Within the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, much has changed since the direct peace talks Obama inaugurated in September 2010 collapsed only a few weeks later. Israel’s recent battle with the armed Hamas movement in the Gaza Strip left many predicting a wider fight ahead, as political divisions deepened within the Palestinian and Israeli electorates over whether negotiations or war will eventually resolve the conflict.

“To make it a substantive trip that is more than a positive photo op would require setting up a specific framework for an agreement and setting a tight deadline to achieve it,” said Jeremy Ben-Ami, the executive director of J Street, a nonprofit group that advocates the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

White House officials would not provide a date for Obama’s trip, which he will squeeze into the tight schedule he is building around a busy domestic agenda on immigration, guns and the economy.

But Israeli media reported that Obama is scheduled to arrive March 20 as part of a trip that will include a stop in Jordan, where the Syrian civil war and its growing refugee crisis is presenting a major challenge to U.S. ally King Abdullah II.

Obama began his administration by making a strong push for peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, believing the conflict fueled radicalism in the region in general and toward the United States in particular given its historic support for the Jewish state.

In contrast to his predecessor George W. Bush, Obama wanted to demonstrate to Arab governments that the United States would make demands of Israel in pursuit of a regional peace agreement.

Netanyahu made little secret of his preference for Republican Mitt Romney in last year’s presidential election. He and Obama have disagreed bitterly at times over issues relating to the Palestinians, namely over Israel’s continuing construction of settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Source : washingtonpost[dot]com

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