President Obama leaves for the Middle East on Wednesday, and his agenda will be full of intractable crises in the region that impacts Israel but does not have much of a direct influence on America. Still, as the world’s cop, the president of the United States is asked to intercede to in the name of peace.
But as President Obama meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and others who want the U.S. to play a bigger role in the regional conflicts, the president might want to pay close attention to a new poll conducted by ABC News/Washington Post. In it, seven in 10 Americans said they would prefer the U.S. stay out of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and let them work it out themselves, which is 15 points higher than the percentage who said the same thing the last time the question was asked 11 years ago.
Among those polled, 55 percent were more sympathetic to Israel, while just nine percent sided with the Palestinian Authority. The rest were undecided or didn’t have a preference.
Middle East experts expect Israel to use the trip to move Obama on two fronts: persuading the U.S. to carry out air strikes on Syria if there is evidence that Syrian missiles are to be handed over to Israel enemy Hezbollah in Lebanon; lower the threshold for taking military action against Iran to stop its development of nuclear weapons, an issue that has caused conflict between Obama and Netanyahu over the last couple of years. For its part, the U.S. will be trying to push Israel into recommitting itself to a peace process with the Palestinians.
No one expects either side to be successful in its wishes.
On the question of Syria, Obama has indicated the U.S. would intervene militarily only to stop Syrian President Bashar al-Assad regime from using its chemical or biological weapons or transferring them to extremist groups. Missiles being sent to Hezbollah to be hidden in Lebanon is a crucial issue for the Israelis. By some estimates, there are up to 60,000 missiles hidden in southern Lebanese villages.
“These missiles are not just a problem for Israel,” a senior Israeli official told the Guardian. “They include [anti-ship] missiles, and who has the biggest navy in the Mediterranean?” – a reference to the U.S.
But while much of the focus of Obama’s trip centers on his relationship with the Israelis, Palestinians don’t have much hope that Obama will pressure Israel to make any concessions that will benefit them—and they feel abandoned after the hope that accompanied Obama’s election in 2008.
“Obama is coming for Israel, not for us,” Mohammed Albouz, a 55-year-old Palestinian farmer, told the Guardian. “Obama will come and go as his predecessors did, without doing anything.”
Large posters of Obama that hung in Ramallah on the West bank last week were quickly defaced, while a small group of activists called “The Campaign for Dignity” plans on releasing black balloons into the air in a sign of mourning when Obama arrives.