Expectations Low for President's Israel Visit

...closing ranks on Iran

Paul Brandus (Mar. 20, 2013)

President Obama has arrived in Israel, his first visit to the Jewish state as president. The 48-hour visit is designed to assure Israelis of what the White House calls Mr. Obama's "unshakable determination" to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. The president will also visit the Palestinian West Bank and Jordan during his three-day trip. 

Both Israeli and American officials have been careful to lower expectations for the trip. In a pre-trip briefing last week, the White House said it does not expect any significant breakthroughs - though officials emphasized the iron-clad determination of both allies to do "whatever it takes" to keep Iran from building an atomic bomb. Ahead of the trip, Mr. Obama said that Iran is still about a year away from that stage. The President maintains that his policy is one of prevention - not containment.

Mr. Obama last visited Israel in 2008 as a presidential candidate. His last trip to the Middle East was in 2009, when he visited Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

The Middle East has changed significantly since that 2009 trip. In addition to worries over Iran, a civil war in Syria, a neighbor of Israel's, continues to rage; and much of the region - stretching from North Africa to the Persian Gulf - has been rocked by the Arab Spring, with Islamist governments taking power in Egypt and Tunisia. The Arab Spring has sparked both democratic movements - and the rise of militias backed by al-Qaeda.

As for peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, they have ground to a halt. President Obama wants a so-called "two-state solution" - but this has been hung up for years on a variety of divisive topics: the borders of the Palestinian state, the status of Palestinian refugees outside those borders, the status of Arab citizens of present-day Israel - and East Jerusalem, which is occupied by Israel, but claimed by Palestinians. Israel claims it as its official capital, though no country, including the United States, has recognized this. Palestinians also claim the holy city as the capital of their future state. Israel occupied East Jerusalem during the 1967 Middle East War and later annexed it. 

-Paul Brandus

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