Dunsmore: Middle East Trip

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In two weeks time, President Barack Obama is scheduled to be in the
Middle East and for the first time in his presidency, will be visiting
Israel. This morning, commentator and veteran ABC News diplomatic
correspondent Barrie Dunsmore examines the importance of this
presidential trip.

(Dunsmore) President Obama’s long awaited
visit to Israel may not take place on schedule. That’s because Israeli
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has yet to complete negotiations to
form a new government following the January elections in which his own
party lost a quarter of its seats in Israel’s parliament. As the new
coalition could re-shape future Israeli policies it makes sense to get
that resolved prior to Obama’s arrival. But in any event, the visit will
eventually take place, and it will matter.

We got a curtain
raiser for the Obama-Netanyahu talks, in speeches this past week to the
annual meeting of the pro-Israeli lobby known as AIPAC- the America
Israel Political Action Committee. Both Vice President Joe Biden and
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, who appeared by satellite, went out of
their way to avoid controversial issues in the U.S.-Israeli
relationship – especially the subject of Jewish settlements on
Palestinian land.

That this is no longer an issue represents a
victory for Mr. Netanyahu and a capitulation for Mr. Obama – who tried
and failed to get Israel to agree to a settlement freeze to encourage
more productive peace negotiations with the Palestinians. The subject of
the 45 year Israeli – Palestinian conflict will of course come up –
especially when the president goes to the West Bank to meet with
Palestinian leaders and to Jordan for talks with King Abdullah. But
Obama is not expected to bring any new peace proposals and nothing much
is expected on that front.

Actually, what concerned the 13,000
delegates to the AIPAC conference earlier this week was not the
possibilities for peace but the prospects of another Middle East War. In
addressing the subject of Iran’s nuclear program, Vice President Biden
emphasized that if all else failed, President Obama would use military
force to stop it. And when he said, "Presidents of the United States
cannot and do not bluff- and President Barack Obama is not bluffing."-
he drew a standing ovation.

A few minutes later Prime Minister
Netanyahu drew a similar reaction when he said, "Words alone will not
stop Iran. Sanctions must be coupled with a clear and credible military
threat if diplomacy and sanctions fail."

As the Reuters News
Agency noted, "Netanyahu’s remarks showed that the latest round of
international talks with Iran in Kazakstan last week had done little to
sooth Israeli concerns. It is a message he is likely to deliver
face-to-face when he meets Obama."

Yet there have been two
important events since the two leaders crossed swords over settlements.
Mr. Obama solidly won his re-election while Mr. Netanyahu took quite a
beating in his. Also, majorities of Americans and Israelis tell
pollsters they have serious reservations about going to war with Iran.

pundits still suggest that Obama and Netanyahu are playing good cop –
bad cop to scare the Iranians. That’s plausible- but not probable. And I
think we still have to consider war a real possibility.



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