President Obama made yet another swoop-in on a visiting Jewish delegation this week, this time stopping for more than half an hour to chat with new Vice Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz and his entourage.

When we in the Israeli press sat down for a debriefing from Mofaz following the White House confab, he told us the meeting was unplanned. In contrast, as a colleague sitting next to me pointed out, when Obama stopped by recently to join White House meetings with visiting delegations of Conservative and Orthodox Jews, they happened to have president-worthy gifts in hand. 


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Mofaz might have been surprised by the presidential showing, but it''s no shocker that Obama wants to do whatever he can to give Mofaz -- hardly a popular figure in Israel -- a boost.


After three-and-a-half years of hoping to work with an Israeli government that focuses on the urgency of making peace with the Palestinians, Obama finally has a coalition to work with that contains the centrist Kadima party, which has emphasized the issue.


Just months after Obama came into office, the White House watched with dismay as Mofaz''s predecessor as head of Kadima, Tzipi Livni, failed to form a coalition despite winning the most seats in the Knesset. Gone was the hope of simpatico Israeli leadership.
  
When Prime Minister Netanyahu put together a coalition much more on the right, he did bring in Labor leader Ehud Barak. Defense Minister Barak has been the emissary to the US ever since rather than the actual Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman of the Yisrael Beytenu party, who is more hardline, provocative and all-around distasteful to Washington officials. 


But Barak, too, has found ways to frustrate his American hosts and at any rate been more attentive to Iran. Listening to Mofaz Thursday -- stressing the need to make peace with the Palestinians, his belief that there is an opportunity right now, his argument that the US rather than Israel should lead any military attack on Iran -- he sounded to the left of his Labor colleague.


Obama''s visit with Mofaz will probably do little to boost the newest coalition partner at home. But it''s at least understandable why the president would want to hear an Israeli talk his language in the White House. 


- Hilary Leila Krieger

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