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September 29, 2016 / 26 Elul, 5776
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Obama’s Poorly Timed Visit

While such a visit would resolve previous criticism that Obama never visited Israel as president, it is a mistake, especially given the timing, for a number of reasons.

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–There is a huge potential for terrible factual mistakes and turns of phrase by Obama that will go down in history. For example, will he say Jerusalem or al-Quds or both? Will he mention the pre-1967 boundaries? Will he speak publicly about Iran’s nuclear threat?

OF COURSE, Obama’s main goal will be to—borrowing a President Bill Clinton phrase—feel both sides pain and cajole them to make peace so that everyone will live happily ever after. This is a noble sentiment but one that’s a bit tired after fruitlessly being mouthed for a half-century.

Speaking of Clinton, let’s remember that on his main presidential visit he told the Palestine National Council to revise its National Covenant (which called for armed struggle and wiping Israel off the map), since that was one of its commitments under the Oslo agreement. They listened to him and then just pretended very cynically to revoke it but didn’t.

Of course, if nobody reports such things then the president doesn’t look bad so perhaps that’s the way an Obama visit will turn out.Note: last June I wrote, asking why Obama wasn’t visiting Israel before the election. At that time we didn’t know he would have a second term. In the article I made three points: he doesn’t like Israel; he feared a poor reception, and he was concerned it would undo his attempt to win support from Arabs and Muslims by distancing himself from Israel. I think all three points still are valid but presumably have been overcome by the following:

He still doesn’t like Israel but figures he has to come once during eight years and perhaps he honestly believes he can appeal to Israel’s people over the heads of its government, having said that he knows what’s best for Israel rather than do its elected representatives;

He also feels he has won enough credibility with Arabs and Muslims (as the “patron” of the Arab Spring and the man to whom the Muslim Brotherhood owes so much), and he’s been reelected so who cares if he is booed a bit. Besides, faced with four more years of Obama the Israeli leadership will be extra careful to try to keep him from being unhappy.

In short, I don’t think my past analysis was wrong, especially because my point was to ask why he didn’t go at a time when it would presumably have benefited him politically. Now he’s going at a time when it might damage the credibility of his policy.

Originally published at Rubin Reports, under the title “Breaking News: President Obama to Visit Israel, the West Bank, and Jordan this Spring.”

Barry Rubin

About the Author: Professor Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. See the GLORIA/MERIA site at www.gloria-center.org.

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