Given the shower of love U.S. President Barack Obama bestowed upon Israel when he arrived on Wednesday, there were some who expected that his speech in Jerusalem on Thursday would be so friendly that afterward it would be suitable for him to become a minister in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government. Of course, this did not occur and there were some who were disappointed.
But, in fact, Obama's trip to Israel has significantly strengthened the relationship between the two countries and their leaders.
In Ramallah on Thursday afternoon, Obama's understanding of Israel's position reached a peak, while in Jerusalem later in the day it lessened somewhat.
Since the presidency of Jimmy Carter, the U.S. has supported the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Obama did not widen the gap or create friction over this issue. But in his brilliant speech in Jerusalem on Thursday, which he gave after flooding Israel with praise, Obama placed a mirror in front of Israel and warned it gently about what would happen to the Jewish and democratic state if it does not act to establish a sovereign Palestinian state alongside it. Many Zionists applauded his remarks and the speech was warmly received by the crowd at the International Convention Center.
Two Jewish American journalists, Jeffrey Goldberg with gentle words and Tom Friedman with tough imagery, said that Obama's policy toward the Israel-Palestinian conflict during his second term would be to warn about the occupation without applying pressure.
But first, in Ramallah on Thursday, Obama boldly used several phrases favorable to Israel that angered his Palestinian hosts. He again stated that Israel is a "Jewish state," as if he were Netanyahu's Siamese twin. And he nearly completely negated the value of the Palestinian demand for a settlement construction freeze before the start of peace negotiations. Speaking almost with the language of the Israeli government, Obama said that if a peace agreement was reached, the issue of settlement construction would be completely solved. These are words usually spoken only in Hebrew.
Obama was inundated with so much love at the official state dinner held for him at President Shimon Peres' residence in Jerusalem on Thursday night that he quoted the Passover Haggadah – "dayenu" ("enough"). He has won the heart of the Israeli public and softened the expected opposition to steps he will take to restart peace negotiations. On Friday, Obama will depart Israel and on Saturday evening U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will start to bridge the gaps between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority. It will then become clear what the significance of Obama's presence in the land west of the Jordan River was.
What will Obama be able to accomplish? The Americans are still committed to pursuing a comprehensive peace agreement. But the experts believe this final goal can't be achieved.
The major question is whether the new government in Jerusalem and the old leadership in Ramallah will prefer the less ideal, but more practical, option of returning to the "road map for peace," which includes an interim agreement.