Thoughts on the Obama Trip
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
The President’s whirlwind trip to Israel was a public success despite some absurd grumbling by some people about the traffic tie-ups in Jerusalem and on the major highways as the President kept to an intense and insane schedule of meetings. Jerusalemites were even angry that presidential helicopters could not fly due to a freakish sandstorm forcing last minute road closures for the motorcade to the airport. Some people observed that Obama was so exhausted that he was thought to have nodded off during the Presidential banquet. Other locals were frustrated that Obama messed up their pre-Passover activities by keeping them from their appointed preparations.
Overall, however, most Israelis were very pleased with what sObama aid and how he said it. Having waited for four years, Israel—the Government and the people—should be pleased that they successfully achieved much in this visit, although not all of it yet probably articulated. While the proof of the pudding will be in the eating, Obama left feeling he delivered his message well and the Israeli public was treated to the President at his best.
Any slights will be more than excused by most Israelis, except for many of the 80,000 plus American olim leaving in Israel who voted for Romney in November, as well as the preponderance of those American and foreigners who are arriving in Israel to celebrate Passover. These are not Obama supporters and nothing he could have said or done would have changed their mindset.
The Arab Message
There are two reactions to the Obama message to the Arab world. On the one hand to the Muslims and to Iran he could not have been clearer concerning his commitment to back Israel. If Arab leaders listened carefully they understood that also as a challenge to them to move ahead on a peace initiative without preconditions.
As many Israelis saw the message to the Arabs, Obama was far less explicit to the Arabs than he was to the Israelis with respect to steps to peace. Some felt there continues to be a genuine timidity on the part of the White House to directly and bluntly recommend specific steps from the Muslims. The ultimate Israeli decision will be whether they recognize that a “possible” opportunity with no security danger?
An obvious accomplishment for President Obama was convincing the Israelis that they had much to gain if they repaired their relationship with Turkey. Israel ate crow and Turkey had assured the President that they would accept Israel’s apology if extended; so the two countries, hopefully, could return to normal relations. With respect to trade, security training, weapons systems assistance, Turkey has much to gain. Israel presumably once again has gained the rights to possible over-flying or aerial re-fueling over Turkey on the way to Iran—should that be necessary. It also probably has an agreed upon strategy to deal with Syria; the Assad Government, the refugee issue, the rebel forces, and military coordination. (This Israel-Turkey arrangement also will assist the U.S. in its growingly more complex relationship in Syrian conflict.)