Haaretz Analysts Weigh in on Obama's Visit to Israel

Haaretz.com Staff
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Haaretz.com Staff

After weeks of anticipation, U.S. President Barack Obama has arrived in Israel today amid high hopes and low expectations.

For some, Obama's visit is a demonstration that Israel is not an island and relations with the United States are still strong, though how much progress will be made on various issues remains to be seen. The settlements and Iran are at the forefront of discussions between the American president and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with Secretary of State John Kerry staying on after Obama departs to lay the groundwork and negotiate details for talks to continue.

Meanwhile, Palestinians are hopeful that Obama's visit will spark positive, tangible steps forward after 20 years of stalled, staggered peace proposals that have done little to end the occupation, segregation and colonization they experience.

Among the issues to be discussed during Obamas' visit is the deepening crisis with Iran. Netanyahu stressed that the time to stop Iran's advance toward nuclear capability is running out. An American strike may be impending if Iran achieves the ability to produce a nuclear weapon; an attack from Israel within the year could delay Iranian progress by up to two years.

In addition to his meetings with Israeli government officials, Obama's trip is an opportunity to reconnect with the Israeli public. After losing Israelis' confidence during his first term, now is Obama's chance to reignite hope here and inspire Israelis to look inward for self-improvement.

Obama's highly anticipated speech to the Israeli public, at Binyanei Ha'Uma in Jerusalem on Thursday evening, will give him a chance to build trust and connect with the fears and ideals of the Israeli people and is an opportunity to resurrect his reputation in the Middle East. If the president succeeds it could result in a more amenable relationship between him and Israel's prime minister.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, for one, hopes that as part of his statements, Obama will affirm the Jewish people's 3,200 year old connection to the Land of Israel. America's and Israel's shared values, he says, should propel Israel to become a nation of inclusivity and ingenuity that seeks to live peacefully with its neighbors.

Of course, with all of the high hopes for diplomatic relations, the impact of Obama's visit will have an immediate and rather inconvenient effect on the daily flow of life for Jerusalem residents, who shared concerns over the anticipated gridlock during Obama's stay prior to Passover. Lack of notice about which routes will be closed, and when, has caused further confusion. One thing people can expect is disruptions to all public transportation throughout the city.

President Barack Obama boarding Air Force One, February 2013. Credit: AP

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