May 16, 2011

Will Obama use AIPAC to announce Israel vacation?

It looks like President Obama will address the AIPAC Conference Sunday morning, one day before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does the same. The President may use the opportunity to announce the details of his upcoming visit to Israel, as Laura Rozen has just reported. He already said he'll visit this year. Since there continues to be little hope for a genuine peace breakthrough in the short term, there's nothing holding him back -- since if there were any chance, a President would wait until there's something he can throw his weight behind. The fact that George Mitchell is stepping down empty-handed is a further sign that nothing serious will happen this year.

The President has learned the hard way that (1) in addition to believing in Greater Israel in his heart, Netanyahu will also not be taking any risks beyond what it takes to keep his day job; (2) he will therefore have to meet the Arab Spring without the credibility of delivering an Israeli-Palestinian deal; and (3) he can win over Israelis and retain the "Jewish vote" stateside if he just makes a re-election campaign visit to Israel, spends quality time with Israeli President Shimon Peres, and appears to get along with Netanyahu. If he can't secure a lasting peace, at least he can avoid looking hard on Israel.

If this is the Administration's belated calculation, it is also reflected in the approach to American Jews as well -- increased engagement and access, without giving the pro-Netanyahu, pro-GOP hardliners any opportunity to call him unsympathetic and definitely without any tete-a-tete to boost their value among Israeli politicians. Unless they're willing to help the President advance his vision of U.S. strategy in the region, they shouldn't expect anything more than pleasantries and military-diplomatic support.

The President gets to shore up his loyal Jewish base, maybe get Florida more firmly back into the blue column, and pull in some extra campaign cash from disaffected Jewish supporters who might otherwise focus on saving the Senate's Democratic majority. As far as statecraft, the President's best chance for pressuring Israel will come in September, when Hamas may convince the Europeans that it's willing to negotiate with Israel, who's own "no preconditions" may come back to bite.

And don't forget, HE KILLED BIN-LADEN...

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