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Monday, March 18, 2013

Obama's visit: Too little, too late

The Washington Post reports that President Obama's trip here is intended mainly to repair relations between the President and the people of Israel.
As much as the Cairo speech upset many Israelis and their most ardent U.S. supporters, it was Obama’s next move that raised even more alarm.
After the speech, the president flew to Germany to visit the Buchenwald concentration camp. He did not stop in Israel on his way — a visit that his predecessor, George W. Bush, also put off until his second term.
During a haunting wind-swept afternoon at the hilltop camp, Obama highlighted the suffering of the Jewish people. But to many Israelis, the visit appeared to locate the modern state of Israel’s legitimacy in the Holocaust rather than in the period outlined in the Bible — an argument that some Arab political leaders also make.
Even to many moderate Arabs, the modern Jewish state was created in historical Palestine to assuage European guilt over the Holocaust. Senior administration officials have said this was not the argument Obama intended to endorse.
But there was suspicion of Obama even before that incident and before the Cairo speech (I concluded that Obama was anti-Israel by January 2008 after trying not to jump to that conclusion through most of 2007).  And the fact that Obama was waited four years to correct that 'misimpression' has not helped.

Even with the media's efforts to convince us, Israelis aren't going to feel warm and fuzzy because Obama visits Herzl's grave or the Dead Sea scrolls. If he went to the Temple Mount or Hebron or Rachel's tomb or Joseph's tomb - things that demonstrate our biblical connection to this land - that might make a bit more of a difference. But he won't....
Working with the White House in the run-up to this week’s visit, Israeli officials suggested a few cultural visits that, in the words of one senior Israeli official, would correct that impression by emphasizing Israel’s “pre-Holocaust claim to a national state.”
The first was the wreath-laying ceremony at Herzl’s tomb. Israeli leaders also suggested that Obama visit the Shrine of the Book, a wing of the Israel Museum that houses the Dead Sea Scrolls. That, too, is on Obama’s itinerary.
“The key and core of the conflict is whether the Palestinians and Arabs will accept Jews as a people with a legitimate claim to the land,” said Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the Washington.
But Obama will not venture into Jerusalem’s Old City, which was seized by Israel in the 1967 war and holds some of the holiest sites of the world’s three major religions within its ancient walls.
And Obama needs a lot of help when it comes to convincing Israelis. In a poll published by Maariv on Sunday, 79% of Israelis wanted him to show up with Jonathan Pollard and 11% wanted Pollard to come without him.  Only 10% of Israelis want Obama to come alone. Probably the same 10% that told the same poll that they 'like' him. 52% of Israelis find him either threatening or indifferent. 51% oppose 'gestures' to the 'Palestinians' in response to Obama's arrival, while only 27% favor such 'gestures' (usually things like releasing terrorists from Israeli jails).

President Obama has a long way to go to repair his relations with Israelis. I wouldn't hold my breath expecting it to happen.

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