President Obama Visits Israel, But Expectations are Low
A great deal of emphasis on symbolism in Obama’s visit, and very little content, expected in Obama’s brief visit to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory
SHIR HEVER, ECONOMIST, ALTERNATIVE INFORMATION CENTER: In March 20 to March 22, President Barack Obama will hold an official visit to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory.
President Obama’s policies towards Israel/Palestine have been attacked both by pro-Israelis and pro-Palestinians. And even the significance of his current visit is interpreted either as a trip to scold Israel for its warmongering or as a trip to show his support for Israel.
In an interview prior to his visit, Obama was asked if he plans to propose an outline to restart negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Obama replied that he doesn’t believe the Israeli government is interested in promoting any such plans, an overt critical statement regarding Israel.
But in another interview, he piled flattery on Israel, and tried to clarify his staunch support for Israel and its policies.
BARACK OBAMA, U.S. PRESIDENT: You know, sometimes I have this fantasy that I can, you know, put on a disguise and, you know, wear a fake mustache and I could wander through Tel Aviv and go to a bar and, you know, have a conversation, or go down to, you know, a university and meet with some students in a setting where it wasn’t as formal.
HEVER: Actions speak louder than words. During his presidency, Obama increased the U.S. military aid to Israel and had the U.S. vote in the United Nations against Palestinian recognition as a state.
The complexity and internal contradictions in U.S policy towards Israel are very apparent in this visit. The president’s staff made great efforts to reduce expectations from Obama’s visit. It has been therefore criticized as a “maintenance visit” and nothing more.
Obama will stay in Israel for approximately 48 hours. In the short visit, his itinerary will be very intensive, allowing for very little time for discussion. Rather, Obama will visit a series of symbolic locations. He will visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum and will lay a wreath on the grave of Theodor Herzl, considered to be the father of Zionism.
Obama decided not to speak in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, but rather in the Shrine of the Book in the nearby Hebrew University.
Obama asked to speak with Israeli students. The students which were invited to the meetings have been selected in Israeli academic institutions which are known for their discrimination against Palestinian students, their special scholarships for soldiers, and their involvement in developing weapons for the Israeli army. However, student’s from Israel’s newest university, the Ariel University, built in a colony in the occupied West Bank in violation of international law, were not invited to the meeting.
With regards to religious sites, Obama will visit only the Church of Nativity in occupied Bethlehem. He has already visited the Wailing Wall in occupied East Jerusalem as a senator in 2008 as part of his campaign for presidency. He will not visit the Al Aqsa Mosque, possibly to distance himself from the Muslim religion.
It is not clear what Obama plans to achieve in his visit, whether he plans to pressure Israel on certain matters or just show his unflinching support regardless of Israel’s blatant violations of international law.
But it is clear that the Israeli government attempts to make the most of Obama’s visit. Netanyahu plans to try to convince Obama to attack Syria and to lower the bar for approving an attack against Iran.
The Israeli government found a way to exploit Obama’s visit for commercial gain. The new Israeli missile system, Iron Dome, produced by the government-owned Rafael company, will be moved especially to the airport so that Obama can have a photo-op next to the rockets, which Israel is promoting as an export. The Iron Dome is an anti-rocket missile designed to prevent Palestinian home-made Qassam rockets from reaching targets inside Israel. A photo-op with Obama will be a free advertisement for the newly designed system.
To make the most of the public relations potential of the presidential visit, the Israeli government paid more than 100,000 dollars to a private media center to provide infrastructure for press coverage and a platform for Israeli officials to disseminate propaganda, or, as it is called in Israel, Hasbara. Interestingly, the media center chosen for the contract is a right-wing institution, the Begin Center, dedicated to the memory and ideology of Israel’s late right-wing prime minister Menachem Begin.
In order to secure Obama’s visit, Israel will deploy 15,000 police, which are about 60 percent of Israel’s entire police force. The ability to mobilize such large numbers is yet another demonstration of Israel’s “security prowess”. This prowess is not just a source for national pride, but also one of Israel’s major export sectors.
The president will also meet briefly with Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, in Ramallah. But after Obama’s conduct towards the Palestinians in his first term as president, there is very little hope among Palestinians that his visit will make any difference.
Dr. Sufian Abu Zaida, senior Fateh member and former Palestinian minister of detainees, said to Al-Monitor: “We don’t expect to come of it. The fact that he said, I’m not coming with any diplomatic plan, speaks for itself. In other words, he is just coming to sightsee.”
The recent upheavals in the Middle East, the Egyptian revolution, the Syrian civil war, the wake of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and the international sanctions against Iran have drawn some attention from the fact that Israel remains the biggest recipient of U.S. military aid in the Middle East and is the most active U.S. ally in the region in the application of military force.
This is Shir Hever for The Real News.
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