President Reuven Rivlin (L) and US President Barack Obama.
(photo credit: GPO,REUTERS)
President Reuven Rivlin has flown to Washington, D.C., to meet with US President Barack Obama on Wednesday. The meeting will be the first between the two heads of state since Rivlin took office in July 2014. Rivlin was supposed to have met with Obama about a year ago after giving a speech at the United Nations in a ceremony marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
However, political tensions were high between the White House and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office; Rivlin announced that the meeting would not take place due to conflicting schedules.
Rivlin’s official visit to the US comes on the heels of a successful meeting in November between Obama and Netanyahu, in which it seems that the turbulent relationship between the two was temporarily calmed. In the meeting, it is supposed that the two leaders discussed their mutual requirements, including the US desire for Israel to halt its building of settlements, not interfere with the implementation of the nuclear agreement with Iran and “calm the flames” with regard to the Palestinian Authority. Israel too may have made clear its requirements, including more security aid from the US and an American commitment to ensure Iran honors its deal in full. Moreover, Israel may have brought to the fore that Jerusalem needs Washington to counterbalance the Iranian and Russian involvement in war-torn Syria.
Rivlin’s meetings will probably deal with different issues. Rivlin may use the meeting to bring up the complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and share his thoughts about the urgent need to improve the welfare of Israeli Arabs, while building trust between them and Israeli Jews. Additionally, Rivlin will likely speak to the heads of Jewish organizations and communities about the Islamic terrorism that crosses national boundaries, anti-Semitic acts mostly in Europe and the sense of a lack of personal security among Jewish communities around the world. Moreover, the president will presumably meet with a group of public opinion leaders to explain the dangerous new Israeli order in which four separate groups are split along “tribal” lines, namely, Arab, ultra-Orthodox, national religious and secular.
The president’s focus on Israel’s internal problems and “Jewish issues” while on an official visit in Washington, DC, is important, however, it could aid the country for Rivlin to “throw his weight around” to promote Israeli foreign relations and act as a sort of foreign minister, especially since there currently is no such minister in the Israeli cabinet.
This is even more significant since Washington is considered the epicenter of international relations among numerous countries and organizations.
In this regard, Rivlin could do a lot to promote Jerusalem’s relations with Latin American countries, which have been on the rise. A new Argentinian president was elected in November and as he is a member of a pro-Israel party, he declared Israel as a natural strategic ally. This welcome change must be publicly lauded as the former administration strengthened ties with Iran rather than embracing a warm relationship with the Jewish community in Argentina.
In Guatemala, former comedian and evangelical Christian Jimmy Morales was elected to lead the country. The evangelical community across Central America is a staunch supporter of Israel. Panama, whose vice president and foreign minister recently concluded a visit to Israel, signed a free-trade agreement with Jerusalem last week that will boost bilateral trade. Israel’s relationship with Honduras also took a leap forward recently with the signing of cooperation agreements in water and agriculture.
The Israeli president has the opportunity to address the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States, of which Israel is a permanent observer. The US, Canada and all of the countries in Latin America are members of this international organization, whose headquarters are in Washington.
Israel has already initiated much of its cooperation with the Central and South American states through this organization, but the president has a prime opportunity to further promote relations with leaders of the Latin community in the US, a community that is comprised of about 50 million people.
Moreover, Rivlin now has the chance to ask prominent Israeli businesspeople to accompany him to Washington, with the goal of promoting joint ventures between Israeli and American companies that operate in Latin America, something his predecessor Shimon Peres made a habit of.
The author is an advocate at Kramer- Shapira-Schneider and an independent strategy consultant for Middle Eastern affairs. Until recently he was the speechwriter for President Reuven Rivlin and was a part of the political team of the Israeli