Obama heads to Israel amid low expectations
Updated: 2013-03-20 09:44
JERUSALEM - US President Barack Obama arrives in Israel on Wednesday without any new peace initiative to offer disillusioned Palestinians and facing deep Israeli doubts over his pledge to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.
Making his first official visit here, Obama hopes to reset his often fraught relations with both the Israelis and Palestinians in a carefully choreographed three-day stay that is high on symbolism but low on expectations.
US President Barack Obama departs aboard Marine One for travel to Israel from the White House in Washington, March 19, 2013. [Photo/Agencies]
He will meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on all three days, hold separate talks in the occupied West Bank with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and address himself directly to a sceptical Israeli public with a speech to students.
US officials say he will try to coax the Palestinians and Israelis back to peace talks. He will also seek to reassure Netanyahu he is committed to preventing Iran from getting a nuclear bomb and discuss ways of containing Syria's civil war.
However, the White House has deliberately minimised hopes of any major breakthroughs, a reversal from Obama's first four years in office when aides said he would only visit the Jewish state if he had something concrete to accomplish.
Workers have hung hundreds of US and Israel flags on lampposts across Jerusalem, as well as banners that boast of "an unbreakable alliance", but the apparent lack of any substantial policy push has bemused many diplomats and analysts.
"This seems to me to be an ill-scheduled and ill-conceived visit," said Gidi Grinstein, president of the Reut Institute, a Tel Aviv-based think tank.
"On the Iranian situation, Israel and the USA don't seem to have anything new to say to each other. On Syria, the Americans don't have a clear outlook, and on the Palestinian issue, they are taking a step back and their hands off."
With both Obama and Netanyahu just starting new terms and mindful that they will have to work together on volatile issues for years to come, they will be looking to avoid the kind of public confrontation that has marked past encounters.
Signalling the emphasis being placed on symbolic gestures, the US president plans to inspect an Iron Dome anti-missile battery when his plane lands at around 12.30 pm (1030 GMT).