Three reasons why Obama is going to Israel now

1) The president is said to have grown tired, during the campaign last year, of hearing the question, “Why haven’t you visited Israel yet?” Of course, many presidents did not visit Israel while president, and some had gone late in their term. Obama is held to a bit of a double-standard on this question — it was a Republican strategy to suggest to Jewish voters, in particular, that he was hostile to the Jewish state — and he has seemed annoyed, at times, when his commitment to Israel is questioned. Late last year, after he won reelection, he suggested, in a White House meeting, that he make Israel an early stop in his 2nd-term foreign travels, in part to quiet this meme.

2) During the first term, Administration thinking held that there was no point in sending the President to meet with Israelis and Palestinians on their home turf unless there was real progress in negotiations. Last year, this thinking shifted: Visiting the region while it was relatively quiet, without carrying a specific political agenda, grew to seem like a smart idea, in particular because many Israelis had grown suspicious of his intentions and would therefore benefit from direct exposure to the man, rather than his caricature. The caricature developed in part because they were told by the Sheldon Adelsons of the world (and more subtly, by Netanyahu himself) not to trust him. This also happened because the President had created the impression, in his famous Cairo speech to the Muslim world in 2009, that he didn’t fully understand the rationale for Israel’s existence.

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