Why Is Obama Going To Israel In March?


There has been a good deal of speculation about why President Obama, who did not visit Israel during his first term, is planning to go to Jerusalem in three weeks.

After all, it’s not like there has been any movement in the long-dormant peace talks with the Palestinians to prompt the visit.

Insiders tell me the president had promised major Jewish supporters of his reelection campaign that he would make Israel his first foreign visit in his second term to show his tangible support for the Jewish state and alleviate concerns in Israel and among some Jews here that he was less than fully on board with Jerusalem.

There had been talk of his going to Israel in mid-June to mark the celebration of Shimon Peres’s 90th birthday during what has come to be known as the Peres Conference, a three-day annual extravaganza in Jerusalem featuring leaders from around the world.

But the president most likely won’t go twice and couldn’t wait until June to make overseas trips, especially if he hopes to coordinate policy with Israel on pressing issues like the Iran threat and the deteriorating situations in Syria and Egypt.

So the March trip was planned with the belief that Prime Minister Netanyahu would have his new coalition in place by then.

That’s not likely now, as Netanyahu continues to scramble in putting a coalition together, finding unexpected resistance from Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett to join him. They say they won’t come into a government that takes in the haredi parties since Lapid and Bennett want to end army exemptions for haredi yeshiva students.

Some Jewish leaders here believe that the Palestinian situation is not high on Obama’s agenda, given the other regional crises. But at least a few are worried that Secretary of State Kerry plans to put the pressure on Israel to get the peace talks moving again.

In the meantime it should be an eventful month.

was editor and publisher of The Jewish Week from 1993 to 2019. Follow him at garyrosenblatt.substack.com.