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September 26, 2016 / 23 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.

Photo Credit: Michal Fattal/Flash90

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

President Barack Obama will visit Israel, the “West Bank,” and Jordan in the spring. I’m not against this visit but I think it is a mistake on Obama’s part. Here’s why.

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.

Obama will have a new foreign policy team which won’t have much time to evaluate the situation and what it wants to do. It has just been announced that Secretary of State John Kerry will visit these places in the spring. Usually the way it would be handled would be to let Kerry go and then evaluate if there was a good basis for a presidential visit.

Presidential visits are supposed to mark achievements or to make achievements possible. A visit that does neither would be perceived as a failure and Obama would look bad. The “peace process” is going nowhere and Obama’s going will not jump start it at all. Afterward, people will be asking: Wasn’t this a policy failure?

The timing is dangerous because it appears to reward the Palestinian Authority (P.A.) after having gone against U.S. policy by asking the U.N. to give it recognition as a state.

No matter whether some people (albeit fewer than ever) believe in “linkage” (that is, “solving” the Israel-Palestinian conflict will benefit U.S. interests in the region and make Arabs and Muslims like it more), the visit would have no such positive effect. Arabs and Muslims would be indifferent or see it as a pro-Israel move (no matter what Obama actually says); Islamists will portray it as a conspiracy that proves how evil is America and Obama. Imagine what Hamas and the Egyptian government’s leaders and media will say.

Perhaps most problematic of all, the P.A. will turn a visit into a minefield for Obama, designing every detail to make it seem the president is visiting (and acknowledging) an independent Palestine. There will be the flag, the honor guard, the playing of the national anthem, the use of the term “Palestine” (rather than Palestinian Authority—what was agreed on at Oslo—or Palestinian National Authority—the term favored by the P.A.’s leadership). Whatever Obama says, no matter how much it might outrage Israel and its supporters, will be deemed insufficient for the Palestinians.

And no matter how much Obama talks of restarting negotiations or pushing for Israeli unilateral concessions, the P.A. won’t do it—as they refused to do in his first term–so he will look foolish. Then Obama will either blame both sides equally or just Israel. This gets him nowhere.

(The likely Israeli coalition is not going to be to Obama’s liking, so watch for his intense frown in the photographs).

I can see there being a speech at the Israeli Knesset and at the P.A.’s parliament and can imagine how every line will go. It might be perfectly fine but nothing new and no one in the region will take it seriously. I guess it will be good for domestic consumption as Obama the peacemaker but will this do anything useful for him politically or for U.S. interests?

As for Jordan, is Obama going to preach the glories of the “Arab Spring” to a country whose monarchy has been America’s most consistently faithful Arab ally and fears being overthrown by a similar movement which would only turn the country over to the Muslim Brotherhood and almost certainly lead to its embroilment in still another war against Israel?

Satirical Content: If this part offends you please don’t read it and just focus on my serious analysis and forgive me for saying a few things that are NOT part of my serious political analysis:

–Will Obama go to the Arafat museum to balance a visit to Yad ve-Shem (the Holocaust Museum in Israel) since he would then be both commemorating the last Holocaust and the man who tried to implement the next one?

–Will he lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Terrorist?

–Certain mass media outlets will run stories that since some friendly Israelis will line his route with nice signs (for example, We Love You, Barack!) that they like Barack more than Bibi and agree that he knows Israel’s interests better than its own leaders.

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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