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Biden heading to Mideast to smooth Israel relations

JERUSALEM – Vice President Joe Biden left Sunday on a mission to mend U.S.-Israeli relations after a rocky first year for new administrations in both countries.

During the three-day visit, Biden is expected to consult with Israeli leaders about Iran and kick off peace negotiations – albeit indirect ones – between Israelis and Palestinians. The Palestine Liberation Organization formally endorsed U.S.-brokered talks on Sunday.

But analysts and officials say the primary objective for Biden, the highest-ranking administration official to visit Israel since Obama’s election, is to give Israel’s government a diplomatic nod and boost Israelis’ confidence in the U.S. president. Obama’s approval ratings in Israel are among the lowest for any U.S. president in recent memory.

“Israelis feel they’ve been unloved and unattended,” said Robert Malley, director of the Middle East program of the International Crisis Group in Washington. “Biden is there to reconnect with the Israeli public.”

Obama upset many here last year by jumping into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with strong public demands on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who took office in the spring. Obama pressured the conservative Israeli leader to endorse a two-state solution and called for a halt of all settlement construction on land occupied by Israel since the 1967 Six-Day War, including East Jerusalem.

In an effort to reach out to Muslims, Obama made several high-profile trips to Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. But the lack of a presidential visit to Israel alienated many.


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