Move seen as effort to restart peace talks
WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama will travel to Israel, the West Bank and Jordan this spring, the White House said Tuesday, amid signs the administration is interested in revisiting stalled Middle East peace talks.
The trip would be Obama’s first visit to Israel as president; he traveled there and to the West Bank as a presidential candidate in July 2008.
It comes as he and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu embark on new terms in office, amid renewed turbulence in the Middle East, and represents an opportunity to forge a different relationship. White House officials said Obama discussed the potential trip when he called Netanyahu on Jan. 28 to congratulate him on the Israeli election.
No date for the trip has been announced, though Israeli media reported that Obama would arrive on March 20.
The president also will travel to the West Bank and Jordan “to continue his close work with Palestinian Authority officials and Jordanian officials on bilateral and regional issues of mutual interest,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said.
The visit comes as incoming Secretary of State John Kerry has expressed interest in reviving the peace talks, which largely stalled in 2010. Kerry, a former senator who started his new job this week, spoke over the weekend with Netanyahu, Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Analysts say Netanyahu was weakened by a January election that saw Israeli centrists gain seats in the Parliament, and that “could very well be the reason why they (the administration) see this as an opportunity to at least go out and put a toe in the waters to see whether that’s going to make any difference in the otherwise obstructionist attitudes on the part of the Netanyahu government,” said Wayne White, a scholar at the Middle East Institute and a former State Department policy and intelligence analyst.
Obama and Netanyahu have had a frosty relationship since the president took a tough early stance in his first term against Israel’s building of settlements in the predominantly Palestinian West Bank.