My heart goes out to all those prophets of "diplomatic isolation," "a rift with the United States," "President Barack Obama's revenge against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu," and so on. What will they do now with the tons of newspapers they ruined with their false prophecies, with the millions of superfluous words, with their foolish depictions that they used to terrorize the Israeli public?
Why is Obama coming to Israel all of a sudden, many are asking. After all, he doesn't need the "Jewish vote" anymore.
The answer is simple: Obama decided to visit Israel to fix what he spoiled during his first term in office, primarily during the first half of his term. He recognizes his rookie mistakes, typical of someone with a disproportionate sense of self-confidence. Now, as a more seasoned statesman, he has come to understand the world and has perhaps adopted a more humble approach.
When he entered office four years ago, the president was saturated with presumptuous messianic fantasies of appeasement between the U.S. and the Islamic world. As part of his display of placation toward the Islamic world — in the belief that addressing this part of the world would be a catalyst for a process of democratization — he turned a cold shoulder to Israel.
Today he is well aware that his policy was an utter failure; that his outstretched hand was coarsely rejected; that his policy of appeasement radicalized Islamic and Arab fanaticism and its hate for the U.S. and the West. He knows that turning his back on Israel exacerbated Arab and Palestinian extremism.
Obama realizes that his sweeping demand to freeze settlement construction failed to advance the peace process and actually became an obstacle — it gave Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas a false sense of loftiness from which he still hasn't managed to descend. He saw how his enthusiastic courting of the Palestinians led Abbas to disregard him and insist on submitting his plan of a forced resolution at the United Nations.
Obama knows that his famous call for democratization in his Cairo speech hasn't actually advanced the process he tried to initiate. The "Arab spring," to which the U.S. gave its blessing, has revealed itself to be an Islamic reaction leading to the replacement of secular dictatorships with those even more fanatical, fundamentalist and brutal. I do not subscribe to the theory that Obama could have saved the Mubarak regime had he stuck by his side, but his alienation of America's long-time ally undercut the last vestiges of American trustworthiness in the Middle East and dealt a significant blow to its image and status.
The U.S. president understands very well that democracy in the Middle East exists, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future, only in Israel. He understands that Israel is America's only ally in this crucial region, one that the U.S. can't do without. He understands that an alliance with Israel is a vital American interest and an irreplaceable strategic asset. He knows that American public opinion wants this special relationship with Israel reinforced, and even a president in his second term can't ignore public opinion. Obama internalized that he must strengthen the friendship with Israel.
In international politics symbols carry great importance. Because his omission of Israel during his last visit to the region symbolized alienation, his upcoming visit in Israel is a symbol of policy amendment, the result of recognizing his errors.
Obama won't come to Israel to apply pressure and to try force it onto a path it finds unacceptable. His visit is meant to tighten the connection with Israel and strengthen the alliance. Obama's visit is a continuation and reinforcement of the positive policies he implemented toward the latter part of his first term — the unprecedented military aid, increasing sanctions (even if late in the game) against Iran, thwarting the Palestinians' plan of a forced resolution in the U.N., the resolute support during Operation Pillar of Defense (Israel's week-long military offensive in the Gaza Strip last November).
The president's visit is intended to display friendship toward Israel and rehabilitate his relationship with Netanyahu. His visit is meant as a show of respect for the decision made by Israeli citizens in the recent election. U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro said the goal of the trip was to hold consultations on Iran, Syria and the peace process with the Palestinians (in that order), and this is likely what will happen.
If the visit puts an end to the Palestinians' rejectionist policies and persuades Abbas to negotiate with Israel without preconditions, it would only be for the best. However, as Shapiro explained, the Palestinian issue is really just the third matter on the agenda.