5 Things To Know About Obama’s First Presidential Visit To Israel
(CNN) — In his first visit to Israel and the West Bank since assuming the White House, President Barack Obama ventures into a region of the world whose politics are layered and complex.
As he meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Obama will address problems on many levels, including his chilly relationship with Netanyahu, Iran’s growing nuclear threat, Syria’s possible use of chemical arms and the elusive prospect of peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
The to-do list is ambitious. Obama isn’t expected to unveil a major peace plan, but the four-day visit will help define the two-term president’s legacy in the Mideast.
1. Repairing Personal Politics
Netanyahu and Obama at times have been at odds.
Netanyahu supported Obama’s opponent, Mitt Romney, in last fall’s election. Netanyahu’s administration also was perceived as slighting the Obama administration when Israel issued permits for settlement building while Vice President Joe Biden was visiting in 2010.
For Obama’s part, an open mike in 2011 caught his complaining about having to deal with Netanyahu, and Obama didn’t meet with the Israeli leader when he visited the United States last fall. Obama cited a scheduling conflict.
At the opening press conference Wednesday, both men were demonstrably friendly in exchanging handshakes.
2. Iran’s Nuclear Program
Netanyahu pressed Obama last year to draw a red line on Iran’s expanding nuclear program.
Obama indicates he has wiggle room before Iran’s nuclear capacity crosses a line, and he is expected to urge Israel to give diplomacy more time. While open to that idea, Netanyahu adds that diplomacy has yet to deter Iran and will press Obama on committing to military options against Iran.
Obama said Wednesday there was still time for a diplomatic resolution to the situation, but added that each country has to make “the awesome decision to engage in any kind of military action” for itself.
3. Syrian Civil War
As Obama began the trip, U.S. intelligence shows a “high probability” that the Syrian government may be using chemical weapons against rebels, further destabilizing Israel’s next-door adversary.
Final verification is needed, however, U.S. officials say.
Israel gathers much intelligence on Syria. The chaos of its civil war makes Israel nervous, especially as voters in adjacent Egypt have put the Muslim Brotherhood in power. The close proximity of chemical warfare also unnerves Israel.
Obama says he won’t stand for chemical warfare in Syria, and his administration won’t discourage allies from helping the Syrian opposition.
4. Peace Between Israel And Palestinians
Expectations are zero that Obama will broker peace between Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, who have yet to return to the negotiating table.
Still, Obama will visit Ramallah in the West Bank and meet with Abbas and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad — if only to highlight the distance that remains for a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians.
5. Beyond The Visit
After Obama visits Israel, the West Bank and then Jordan, new Secretary of State John Kerry will likely remain behind in Israel and meet with Netanyahu on Saturday, a senior State Department official told CNN.
Kerry would review the results of Obama’s visit and discuss the next steps on key issues, the senior official said.
Such a follow-up strategy would mark Kerry’s first foray into Mideast peace issues — and could advance any success Obama achieves during his maiden visit to Jerusalem and the West Bank.