President Barack Obama has succeeded in pushing a much-needed “reset” button in his personal relations with Israel. But how successful he’ll be in translating the good will into shared policy is not yet clear.
Critical issues like the Iranian nuclear threat, the situations in Syria and Egypt, as well as relations with the Palestinians, all weigh heavily on both Israel and the United States, but they may not be fully in sync about how to address them.
Still, the president’s words and actions go a long way in establishing a sense of trust that was missing from his first term. Had such a visit occurred back then, it might have alleviated some of the tensions and suspicions that arose.
However, it’s also likely that critics would have derided the president for engaging in a charm offensive for the sake of Jewish political support above all else. This time, no one can accuse him of any ulterior motives.
While military and security cooperation reached unprecedented levels during the president’s first term, he made several missteps, including pressing for a settlement freeze on the West Bank that led to greater intransigence among the Palestinians. This time around, the president shifted his position, making clear to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that he should return to the negotiating table without preconditions. The ball is in the Palestinian court and we hope they will take up Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s offer to come back to the negotiating table.
Throughout his visit last week, Obama sought to reassure Israelis that he understood the historic Jewish connection to the land of Israel, that he would not allow Iran to attain nuclear weapons and that he understood Israel’s need to defend itself.
In addition, his well-orchestrated visits to sites touched at the heart of the Jewish/Israeli narrative.
“Those who adhere to the ideology of rejecting Israel’s right to exist might as well reject the earth beneath them and the sky above, because Israel is not going anywhere,” he said in his nearly hour-long speech in Jerusalem on March 21. “Today, I want to tell you — particularly the young people — that so long as there is a United States of America, ‘Ah-tem lo lah-vahd,’ you are not alone.” (To read the full speech, go to jewishexponent.com.)
We all know that it will take more than eloquent speeches to resolve the complex and dangerous situations that roil the region. But a strong U.S.-Israeli alliance will be a critical factor as both nations pursue their policies.
As we continue our celebration of Passover, and we continue our personal quests for modern-day freedom, we pray for a peaceful resolution to the conflicts that threaten Israel and our people.