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Obama’s Visit to Israel a Chance To Reset US-Israel Ties

Ben Caspit writes that President Barack Obama's visit to Israel will remind Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that diplomacy between Israel and the Palestinians is still at the top of the US agenda.
U.S. President Barack Obama welcomes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, March 5, 2012.        REUTERS/Jason Reed       (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS) - RTR2YVL0
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The previous elections in Israel took place in February 2009, some three months after Barack Obama was elected as the first black president in the history of the United States, and about one month after he assumed office. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu formed his government on April 1, 2009. In other words, Obama had a 40-day hiatus in which he was the sitting president and Netanyahu was the prime minister-designate, attempting to put together a coalition. Tzipi Livni’s Kadima was the largest party in the Knesset [Israeli Parliament] then, with 28 seats, one more than Bibi’s Likud. At that time, various forces in Israel and abroad, recommended to the Obama team that the president make a quick presidential visit to Israel. Their reasoning? They hoped that this might influence the configuration of Israel’s future government. Following those elections, they explained, Netanyahu could choose one of two possible alternatives to form his new government. A presidential visit would make it clear to him, and to Livni too, that the peace process would be high on the agenda of the Obama’s first term, and that the government should be formed accordingly. It would be a case of “soft involvement” in Israel’s internal affairs, but of the kind that remains within the realm of legitimacy. As we all remember, Obama did not accept this recommendation. He preferred to visit Egypt and deliver his famous “Cairo Speech,” which, in retrospect, seems like one of his more resounding errors.

Let’s skip to today. A recommendation has been sent to Washington yet again. In fact, it is the exact same recommendation. The identities of the people who sent the recommendation are more or less the same as well. They are Israelis involved in generations of diplomatic negotiations. They are involved politically and even internationally throughout the entire region. “Mr. President, you have another chance to signal your intent. You can clarify to whoever needs clarification that this time the diplomatic process really will be at the top of your agenda. Maybe this way you can influence the new coalition-in-the-making. Maybe Netanyahu will finally internalize how things really stand. Maybe his coalition partners will realize it. This is your second chance, Mr. President,” they will go on to say. “You won’t get a third. You have no more terms left. It’s now or never.

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