Obama plans to visit, US envoy to Israel says

Cunningham doesn't specify date but says visit is on agenda; Rivlin: Israelis feel Obama sees Israel as burden, not asset.

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July 6, 2011 01:04
2 minute read.
PM Netanyahu, US President Obama at White House

PM Netanyahu with US President Obama at White House 311. (photo credit: Avi Ohayon / GPO)

 
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US President Barack Obama plans to visit Israel, outgoing US Ambassador to Israel James B. Cunningham said in the Knesset on Tuesday.

“The president wants to visit Israel, and he’ll do it,” Cunningham said during a meeting with Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin.

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“Israelis fear that the atmosphere in the White House has changed for the worse,” Rivlin told the envoy. “The feeling is that Obama sees Israel as a burden, as opposed to a strategic asset.”

“When Obama visited Egypt and the region, he chose not to come to Israel, and this bothered many Israelis,” Rivlin added. “You cannot deny the public’s feelings and try to change them through explanations.”

Cunningham told Rivlin that the Israeli feeling is mistaken, and a visit to Israel is on Obama’s agenda – but did not give a specific date for the visit.

There has been talk intermittently for over a year about an Obama visit, with American Jewish leaders urging him to make the trip in a bid to win the trust of a skeptical Israeli public.

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There were numerous reports in the spring that Obama was planning to attend the Israeli Presidential Conference hosted in Jerusalem last month by President Shimon Peres. A source close to the White House told The Jerusalem Post two weeks ago that Obama expressed serious interest a couple of months ago in coming to the event.

In the interim, however, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu came to Washington on a visit marked by tension with Obama over the president’s proposal for negotiations with the Palestinians to start using the 1967 lines, with mutually agreed land swaps, as a baseline. That tension, the source said, thwarted the planned Obama visit.

Nevertheless, discussions about a possible visit are continuing in Washington.

If there is to be a visit, the source said, it would likely be by the end of the year to avoid a perception that if Obama came in 2012, it would only be because of the presidential elections in November of that year.

Rivlin and Cunningham also discussed peace efforts, with the Knesset speaker saying that “Americans think that if we give up everything there will be real peace, but that is a mistake.”

“The Palestinians are not prepared to accept difficult decisions,” Rivlin added. “[PA President Mahmoud Abbas] may have abandoned terrorism, but he still would not dare to say loud and clear that the Palestinian interest is to live in peace next to Israel – with only one army between the Jordan River and the sea.

“There are no short-cuts in the Middle East. Even a person who ascended from a senator to the president of the US cannot make miracles happen.”

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