U.S. President Barack Obama plans to visit Israel at the end of March, his first trip to the country since taking office.
- Sefi Rachlevsky / Obama, Come to Israel
- 'Netanyahu, Obama Have Bad Chemistry'
- Obama to Visit Israel if Re-elected Says Aide
- Chemi Shalev / All Eyes on Isr-PA Fight
- U.S. Envoy: Obama's Trip to Israel Will Bring 'Urgent' Peacemaking Agenda
- Carlo Strenger / Obama, Reach Out to Israelis
- Obama Not Coming With Peace Plan
- Obama’s ME Team: Old Snags, New Style
The U.S. president's visit is expected to take place after the new Israeli government is already formed. The assumption is that this will happen by mid-March, and a likely date for the visit is March 21. According to a senior Israeli official, the visit may be postponed until after Passover if the coalition-building process is delayed.
According to a White House official, Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed the visit in a telephone call on January 28.
"The start of the president's second term and the formation of a new Israeli government offer the opportunity to reaffirm the deep and enduring bonds between the United States and Israel and to discuss the way forward on a broad range of issues of mutual concern, including Iran and Syria," the official said.
"Additional details about the trip - including the dates of travel - will be released at a later time," the official said.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said that while he is here, Obama will also visit Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and King Abdullah of Jordan. He is currently due to be preceded by his new secretary of state, John Kerry, who is slated to travel to Israel, the PA and Egypt in about 10 days' time. But its possible Kerry will delay his visit and come with Obama instead.
Obama's decision to visit so early in his second term is somewhat surprising , both because of his famously tense relationship with Netanyahu and because White House officials had previously said he would visit only if he thought doing so would help to advance the peace process.
Equally surprising, a White House statement about the visit made no mention of the Palestinian issue at all. "The start of the president's second term and the formation of a new Israeli government offer the opportunity to reaffirm the deep and enduring bonds between the United States and Israel and to discuss the way forward on a broad range of issues of mutual concern, including Iran and Syria," said National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor.
A senior Israeli official involved in preparing the visit said that Obama wants to see movement on the Palestinian issue and will give a diplomatic speech while he is here, "but at this stage, there's no clear American plan to resume the peace process or diplomatic initiative that the president intends to launch during his visit."
Israeli Ambassador to Washington Michael Oren told Haaretz that the visit is meant "to send a clear message to the entire region about the strength of the U.S.-Israeli relationship and the intent to strengthen this historic alliance still further at this challenging moment in the Middle East."
Obama did not visit Israel during his first term, which drew heavy criticism from American Jewish leaders and Israeli supporters in the United States.
On the same day that Netanyahu and Obama held their conversation, Israel's Army Radio aired an interview with former U.S. Ambassador Martin Indyk, who said that Obama had made a "mistake" by not visiting the country in his first term, despite being "deeply committed" to Israel's security.
"Of course it was a mistake. And it's a mistake that he hasn’t come to Jerusalem since then," Indyk told Army Radio in the interview. "I think it's very important that the Israeli public come to feel him. He is a man who is deeply committed to Israel's security. The problem is that the Israeli public cannot feel him."
A visit so early into his second term is a bit surprising due to tensions between Netanyahu and Obama and because in recent months, White House officials clarified the president would only come if he felt his trip would be effective in promoting the peace process.
An Obama administration official said last summer said Israel could expect a visit if Obama was re-elected. "We can expect him to visit Israel in a second term, should he be reelected," Colin Kahl, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East, said.