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U.S. News and Commentary



Tuesday
Mar122013

Low expectations for Obama’s Israel trip, with Iron Dome and PA prisoners on agenda

Map: CIA World Fact BookPresident Barack Obama has met with both Jewish and Arab-American leaders in the U.S. ahead of his planned visit to Israel. The president will reportedly travel there between March 20-22.

Obama is expected to hold a joint press conference with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Obama will also meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

On the agenda are a look at the Iron Dome system and the status of Palestinian prisoners.

Most pundits have expressed low expectations for the trip.

Israel’s oldest daily newspaper, Haaretz, said Obama will be shown an Iron Dome battery at some point when he arrives at the airport. Iron Dome is a defense system developed in Israel that can intercept short-range rockets and mortar shells.

Haaretz, known for leftist positions politically, featured a lengthy article about Obama’s visit and historic sites he will see as well as diplomatic events. Commenters at the website were not enthused; the U.S. president is apparently not popular with the readership. At the time this column was written, there wasn’t a single positive comment in the discussion thread.

As Israeli leaders plan their agenda, Palestinian Authority leaders are doing the same. The Jerusalem Post, a newspaper more centrist in its politics, said Abbas will make Palestinian prisoners in Israel his top agenda item. Abbas reportedly wants Obama to pressure Israel for the release of many of these prisoners. The paper said the issue of settlements will be second on Abbas’ agenda.

The British publication The Economist summed up the feelings of many political observers who believe Obama’s visit will bring little in the way of peace:

“At most, the Israelis might agree to a partial freeze on settlement construction in exchange for a Palestinian pledge not to take Israel's settlement activity to the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Nobody expects any progress towards final-status negotiations…”

Ahead of Obama’s visit, the United Nations has taken up the cause of human rights and Israel, asking Israel’s top court to overturn a law having to do with illegal aliens and refugees. The UN has been perceived by some to be hostile to Israel, at one point showing the film Miral to the UN General Assembly in 2011. The UN didn’t do the same with a film critical of Iran, The Stoning of Soraya M.

According to U.S. immigration experts at the Center for Immigration Studies, the UN exerts a great deal of influence over refugee programs. In the U.S., for example, CIS said:

“[U]p to 95 percent of the refugees coming to the United States were referred by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) or were putative relatives of U.N.-selected refugees.”

Obama’s visit comes approximately one year after Netanyahu’s visit to the U.S. ahead of Purim. During that visit, the prime minister delivered a strongly worded statement about Israel’s borders, and the speech was cast by many Western media as a rebuke of Obama.

Obama has said he will take up a number of issues during his visit, with no single issue dominating.

(Filed by Kay B. Day/March 12, 2013)

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