Obama, Bibi and a summit with the bar set low
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It took him four long years to do it, but this week Barack Obama finally took his first visit to Israel as president. While any presidential visit is welcome, this summit may go down as being notable more for what it did not accomplish than what it did.
In terms of the visit’s tangible results, the bar was set low. The upside of that: Any positive developments will be a welcome surprise.
During Obama’s first term, bilateral relations between the United States and Israel bristled with tension. Though strategic bonds remained strong, subtle U.S. policy shifts away from Israel, along with a strained relationship between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, conveyed the impression of discord.
The three-day visit this week, with an itinerary packed with symbolism, if not substance, signaled a fresh start between the two leaders.
It started on the tarmac, when Obama posed with Israel Defense Forces personnel manning an Iron Dome battery. Behind the smiles, the optics sent an unmistakable signal that the United States stands solidly with Israel when it comes to defense.
The White House made clear in advance that Obama would bring with him no new Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative. While disappointing, it makes sense considering how far both sides have to go just to get back to zero.
Yet there may be behind-the-scenes maneuvering afoot, laying the groundwork for a peace push led by new Secretary of State John Kerry, who is accompanying Obama on his travels and who is scheduled to return to Israel on the night of Saturday, March 23, to follow up on the president’s earlier talks with Netanyahu.
One of the core messages of Obama’s visit is that of complete solidarity between Israel and the U.S. when it comes to the Iranian nuclear threat. Working in concert, the two nations have rallied the world on this issue. Bilateral talks in Jerusalem will only deepen the mutual commitment.
But perhaps the most important moment of the trip, at least for Jews who love Israel, came as soon as Obama stepped off the plane. Making up for past statements, in which he seemed to suggest that Israel was largely karmic restitution for the Holocaust, Obama went further, much further, in a stirring rationale for the country’s existence.
At Ben-Gurion Airport, Obama said: “More than 3,000 years ago, the Jewish people prayed here, tended the land here, prayed to God here. And after centuries of exile and persecution, unparalleled in the history of man, the founding of the Jewish State of Israel was a rebirth, a redemption unlike any in history.”
We could not have said it any better.