Next month, two months into his second term, President Barack Obama will arrive in Israel, beginning a Middle East trip whose objective is muddled by the turmoil in the region. What exactly does Obama seek to achieve?
Any presidential trip begins long before Air Force One leaves the hangar. While the advance travel officials work out the details of the itinerary, the policy, politics and press people are already crafting their desired narrative. Item one on the agenda this time is lowering expectations.
Any insinuation that Obama will launch a new peace process between Israelis and Palestinians is quickly getting the wet blanket treatment. If nothing happens on that front, according to that message, don't be disappointed. If it does, then we can all be surprised and impressed.
The strategy is not just a case of Machiavellian expectations management. These are truly difficult times to bring the sides together. But there is much the president can do to have a significant and positive impact in the region.
Obama's presence, and the presumably powerful speeches he will deliver, will send strong messages to Israelis and to Arabs. The president should make two points clear to everyone while he's there.
• First, for the sake of peace between Israel and its neighbors, he must erase any doubt that the United States is committed to Israel's survival. If anyone has questions about that fact, reconciliation will never come.
• Second, he must remind Arabs that America supports secular democratic societies that give equal rights to all their citizens. That's another point that may seem obvious to many, but finds many doubters in the Arab uprising states.
To most Americans, the survival of Israel, and America's determination to ensure it, may seem beyond debate. But to many people in the Middle East it isn't.
If Palestinians and other Arabs think there is any chance Israel will not survive, many will continue clinging to the belief that one day they can have all the territory where Israel stands. As a result, those calling for compromise can find their voices drowned by the ones that call excitedly for armed confrontation.
Source: Miami Herald | FRIDA GHITIS