5 Important Takeaways From Obama's Schmoozefest in Israel


OK, so not a lot got actually done during Obama's visit to Israel. This was to be expected, but it doesn't mean there aren't some important lessons from his visit. Here's five things to take away from the trip.

1. Obama's really, really committed to Israel

The president spent the majority of his trip in Israel, paying relatively little attention to Palestine. Aside from a brief stop in Ramallah to meet with Palestinian President Abbas, and a quick visit to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the entirety of his trip was spent in Israel, where he made tourist stops at the Israel Museum and Herzl's grave. 

He also repeatedly reaffirmed his commitment to Israel, and during a press conference he said he's spent more time meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu than with any other world leader. 

2. The big show at the Iron Dome was unfortunately timed

Obama made one more stopover for a photo-op: he visited an Iron Dome battery near Ben-Gurion airport. This was an obvious choice of activity, given that the US pays for the Iron Dome. 

But the timing of his visit to the Iron Dome couldn't possibly have been worse. Just days before Obama arrived, Israeli newspapers began reporting that the Iron Dome's success rate during Operation Pillar of Defense was much lower than originally thought — instead of 84%, it may have been lower than 5%

To make matters worse, two rockets hit Israel during Obama's visit ... and neither was successfully intercepted by Iron Dome. Thankfully, no one was hurt. But still, doesn't look good. 

3. Palestinians may soften settlement freeze demand...

Documents uncovered by the New York Times showed some surprising things among Palestinian President Abbas' talking points for his meeting with Obama. For example, Abbas apparently promised not to try to take Israel to the International Criminal Court for human-rights violations as long as they don't build settlements in the controversial E1 area, and he also threatened to dissolve the PA if there's no progress in talks.

But perhaps the most surprising thing in the notes was Abbas' stance on settlement construction. A publicly announced settlement freeze has long been a precondition for a return to talks, but it seems Abbas and the PA are now scaling back that demand. According to the Times:

“He can pledge to you secretly that he will stop settlement activities during the period of negotiations,” read one talking point, referring to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. “(He does not have to announce it.)”

Of course, if the settlement freeze was privately promised but not publicly announced, Netanyahu could resume settlement construction once the talks began, and Abbas wouldn't be able to accuse him of reneging on public commitments. 

4. ... But settlement construction was still frozen

Ironically, given the content of the New York Times documents, there actually was a settlement freeze in the weeks leading up to Obama's visit. The Jerusalem municipality dropped two settlement projects in order to not offend the President, and Netanyahu reportedly ordered a West-Bank-wide settlement 'suspension' in anticipation of the President's visit. The settlement suspension is expected to end now that Obama has left, however, and the lack of a permanent solution to the settlement question leaves Palestinians with another reason to distrust Obama.

5. Palestinians aren't too happy with Obama

Demonstrations against Obama were widespread in the West Bank during his visit to Israel and Palestine. Aside from large protests in Ramallah, Palestinian protesters erected a tent city in the E1 settlement block. Although the tents were torn down by Israeli security forces immediately after Obama left, it leaves little doubt that the Palestinian public is unhappy with the progress Obama's made in negotiating a solution to the settlement controversy. It seems that if Obama is truly interested in a sustainable peace plan, he's going to have to try something new.