(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
US President Barack Obama is due to host Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin for a rare summit at the White House on Wednesday during Hanukka.
In light of the frayed relationship between Israel and the US over the Iran nuclear deal – and following last month’s encouraging meeting between Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington, which both sides hailed as helping to get the relationship back on track – the Rivlin-Obama engagement represents one more step in reconfirming the special bond between Israel and the US.
“I am going to America to tell the American president and the American people the obvious, and the obvious should be said from time to time: There is no greater friend to Israel than the United States of America,” Rivlin told The Jerusalem Post in an exclusive interview before his departure.
Rivlin said he had never before spent part of Hanukka abroad, but meeting Obama was so important to him that he was making an exception.
“It is my 76th Hanukka candle-lighting, and it is the first time I am not celebrating Hanukka in Jerusalem with my children and grandchildren,” Rivlin said. “Nevertheless, if I’m going to be away from home, to be at the White House is the best place to be.”
Rivlin said, if asked by Obama, he would be ready to address issues such as Israel’s security problems, instability in the Middle East and the threat of Islamic State.
Obama, in his address to the American people on Sunday night following last week’s attack in San Bernardino, California, went further than he has before in acknowledging that the “terrorist threat has evolved into a new phase.” And, even though he didn’t offer concrete plans to combat that threat, the US president vowed to destroy Islamic State.
While that topic will undoubtedly be addressed in Obama’s meeting with Rivlin, the current dismal state of relations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is more likely to take up the bulk of their discussion.
Rivlin said his message to Obama would be that Israel is ready to resume negotiations and that he is personally prepared to meet PA President Mahmoud Abbas at any time.
“We have a lot to talk about, on the wonderful opportunities for all of us, on the mutual interest of cooperating,” he said.
Rivlin said he also planned to discuss with Obama new confidence-building measures “to enable Israelis and Palestinians to live together.”
“If we build walls between us, we will not find any possibility of bringing to an end the tragedy we have lived in for the last 100-150 years, and I have a lot of suggestions on those matters,” he said.
One of the possibilities, Rivlin said, is living together in some form of “confederation.” Representing the feeling of a great many Israelis, Rivlin still harbors doubts about the establishment of a Palestinian state under the current leadership of the Palestinian Authority, but appears to have softened his previous stance against a two-state solution.
Reflecting also the wellpsring of Israeli opinion, Rivlin believes the only way to create confidence-building measures between Israel and the Palestinians is with the help of the US administration.
During his presidency, Israelis across the political spectrum – Jews and Arabs, religious and secular – have come to respect Rivlin and see him as a president for the people, representing the interests of all citizens.
Evidently, Obama also values Rivlin’s views, otherwise he would not have issued the invitation in the first place.
The Rivlin-Obama summit reflects the common values Israel and the US share. In his address on Sunday, Obama may have been speaking about the US, but his words ring true for Israel, as well, when he said, “Let’s not forget that freedom is more powerful than fear; that we have always met challenges – whether war or depression, natural disasters or terrorist attacks – by coming together around our common ideals as one nation, as one people.”
Before leaving for Washington on Tuesday night, Rivlin told the Post that lighting the candles of Hanukka anywhere in the world “expelled darkness to bring in the light.”
We wish Rivlin all the best during his visit to the US; successful meetings with the president, as well as with other American and Jewish leaders. During these dark days, may he shine as a beacon of light!