The meaning of Obama’s trip

The meaning of Obama’s trip

Political analysts are having difficulty trying to define U.S. President Barack Obama’s current Middle East trip.
Is this a “historic visit”? Or is it a “peace visit”? Not quite. The American leader is not coming to the region with a new plan or a new diplomatic initiative.

However, this trip, with Israel at its center, is not an ordinary trip. Perhaps the most significant aspect of this trip is that Obama, at the beginning of his second presidential term, has felt the need to make his first visit to this region. The main address of the visit is Israel. On this opportunity, Palestine and Jordan have also been added to the list. In his first presidential term, Obama (after Ankara) went to Cairo and addressed the Arab and the Islamic world from there. He did not make an official visit to Israel during that term, preferring instead to meet the Israeli leaders in Washington.

Again, at the beginning of the first term, he put efforts into accelerating the Israeli-Palestine peace process, but this initiative did not yield any results. What’s more, last year Obama fell out with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and this created a standoff between the two countries.

Restoring confidence

The primary reason for Obama to make his first trip to Israel after re-election is the wish to eliminate this standoff. The share of domestic policy factors in this calculation is about the same as the U.S.’s strategic interests.

For this reason, analysts see this trip as a “restoration of confidence” with Israeli leaders and “conciliation” with the people of Israel.

U.S. officials, like the Israelis, are trying to keep expectations modest about this trip. This means that a new plan or an initiative will not emerge from the meetings.

Three files will be the main focus of Obama’s meetings with Israel, Palestine and Jordan. Some American diplomats prioritize Iran, while Obama is of the opinion that more time and more patience are needed to solve the nuclear crisis. Actually, he is concerned about potential for a one sided Israeli military operation. He will therefore try to stop Netanyahu in this respect and persuade him to “leave this business to me.”

The second file is about the Palestinian issue. The restarting of negotiations is still far from being on the agenda, but Obama will encourage both sides to show flexibility on this matter - especially Israel, by stopping its launching of new settlements – in order to start the process again.

Without getting too involved

Finally, the third file is about Syria. This is a number one issue, especially for Jordan. However, it is doubtful that the fact that there is a consensus about Syria will cause a more active U.S. role in practice.

In short, concrete results solving issues should not to be expected from this trip of Obama. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that this trip - which is being closely watched by the entire world - has a symbolic meaning. It shows that, despite all of Obama’s other priorities, he has not given up focusing on the region. However, he is also making it known that he would prefer not to interfere with regional issues, unless he considers it to be imperative.

Sami Kohen is a columnist for daily Milliyet in which this piece was published on March 20. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.