U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Israel is an important event, intended to demonstrate his deep commitment to the Jewish state and to once and for all remove the “stain” of his avoidance up to now of a presidential visit. The very fact of this visit could have breathed renewed hope into the chance of restarting the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. But when Obama himself “lowers expectations” and is not bringing a new plan with him, and facing him is an Israeli government that represents the range of views from extreme right to moderate right, it would take a good bit of imagination to expect a breakthrough over the next two days.
Here lies the central danger of the visit. The Israeli government and public could conclude, based on the polite tone of the president and the lack of a threat or demonstrative pressure, that Israel is now exempt from having to initiate steps toward resuming the peace process.
This would be a horrible conclusion. Obama and the United States are not a party to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The president of the United States is not the one who must live in a society that is being transformed as a result of the occupation and pushed to the margins of the international community. Netanyahu is correct in saying, as Washington has made clear many times, that the United States cannot want peace more than the parties themselves. But the weakness the Americans have demonstrated until now in every way over the peace process actually proves that it is Israel that must offer new plans and proposals and advance the implementation of the agreed two-state formula.
Obama can and must make clear to Israel how the continuation of the occupation could affect bilateral relations, harm the U.S. position in the region and erode the American public’s support for Israel. He owes this to Israel and to the citizens of his country. Netanyahu, on his part, cannot settle for “surviving” the visit or for mutual pats on the back. He is responsible for renewing negotiations with the Palestinians.