Obama to visit Israel for first time as president

White House confirms US president plans to visit Israel in spring; trip seen as an effort to restart peace process.

Netnayahu and Obama stroll in Whtie House 390 (photo credit: Amos Ben Gershom / GPO)
Netnayahu and Obama stroll in Whtie House 390
(photo credit: Amos Ben Gershom / GPO)
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.
Israeli media 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 Ramallah.
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 president.
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 interests.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to make his first visit to Israel in his new role sometime next week.