Both the White House and the Prime Minister’s Office confirmed on Tuesday that
US President Barack Obama will visit Israel this spring, for the first time
since he entered the White House in 2009.
“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,” said
White House spokesman Tommy Vietor.
He pointed to Iran and Syria but did
not mention the Palestinians.
The trip is widely seen, however, as an
effort by Obama to kick-start a moribund peace process between Israelis and
Palestinians amid other roiling regional concerns, such as the Arab Spring and
the Iranian nuclear program.
Vietor said further details about the trip,
including the dates, would be released at a later time.
reports have, however, identified late March as the expected arrival time.
Channel 10 reported that the visit will take place as part of a regional tour
also expected to take Obama to Ankara, Amman, Riyadh, Cairo and
Obama has no foreign travel scheduled before the speculative
dates of his Middle East tour, meaning the trip would likely be the first
foreign foray of his second term.
He came under a great deal of criticism
for not visiting Israel during his first term, something that many believed
would have reassured a jittery Israeli public of his support, even though he did
visit countries nearby such as Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. He was last in
Israel as a presidential candidate in 2008.
Since Obama will come to
Israel, it is less likely that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will travel to
Washington for the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy
conference in early March, an opportunity prime ministers usually use to meet with the US
That visit, however, was already in doubt because of the
possibility that Netanyahu may not have a new government in place by the time
the conference begins on March 3.
Tzipi Livni, who relentlessly slammed
Netanyahu during the election campaign for poisoning ties with the US, issued a
statement welcoming the planned Obama visit, saying Israel-US ties were an
important element of Israel’s national security. Livni, whose party is in talks
with Likud Beytenu over joining the coalition, said she hoped Netanyahu and
Obama would re-start the diplomatic process that serves both Israeli and US
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to
make his first visit to Israel in his new role sometime next week.