By Meir Solomon
If March enters like a lion and leaves like a lamb, what form will it take just past its Ides when on the 20th of March President Obama lands and takes Israel by storm? Should we “beware the Ides of March” and fear his visit will bring tempests and bluster, threatening a storm in U.S.-Israeli relations? Or will his visit be kind and gentle with fleecy-white words of eternal friendship? If the last four and a half years are any indication, the best guess is to expect a lamb during public visits and a lion when meeting privately with Prime Minister Netanyahu.
The President’s first term showed him to be an unpredictable friend, both lion and lamb. This leaves the President as a strange hybrid of the two animals associated with March, probably more a ferocious lamb, or a veritable wolf in sheep’s clothing. Perhaps the most important weather front to watch is the interaction between Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama. Will it be a continuation of the cold front that has kept a chill on their relationship these past four and a half years or will there be a warm front coming in to bring a thaw?
As much as I would like to be a fly on the wall when President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu meet privately, I am more intrigued by the message the President will give to our Palestinian neighbors. What will he say to Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas?
Will the President be lion, lamb, or lame?
For the last week the city of Jerusalem has been bedecked in flags of red, white, and blue — Old Glory — making Israel’s capital look like Washington, DC, on the 4th of July. Warnings of a traffic nightmare have been broadcast. To put it in context, Jerusalem will be at a traffic standstill every bit as intense as Manhattan’s East Side when the President addresses the United Nations but not quite as busy as 13th Avenue in Boro Park on this, the week before Pesach.
People throughout the Jerusalem area are changing plans in anticipation of the shutdown that will consume the city Wednesday until the President leaves on Friday which effectively means through Shabbat. Since Seder comes a day later it seems fittingly ironic that we will be spending the week before Pesach much like our ancestors did in Egypt, our freedom of movement greatly constrained by the presence of a powerful leader.
Despite the city’s lockdown there will be much foot traffic within Jerusalem itself. The President’s itinerary is by all accounts a seamless scheduling of meetings and sightseeing, not surprising as this is his first visit as the leader of the Free World. Despite the frenetic pace of the president’s whirlwind tour, I am hoping that he will take a moment to observe that despite his presence the bustle of Jerusalem does not stop; Pesach is almost here and even if one of the most powerful men on this planet comes, there are still things to be done.
The demands on the 48 hours the President will be in the Holy Land dictates his itinerary. As interesting as which places made the President’s list of sites to visit are the omissions from his itinerary. For example, the President will not be going to the Kosel though he was invited there; nor will he be going to the Temple Mount, perhaps because he was threatened by the Waqf, the Muslim agency officiating Islamic holy sites. Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum, virtually a required stop for visiting dignitaries, is on the itinerary.
Surprisingly, he will not be addressing the Knesset, another act considered de riguer, but instead will deliver the major address of his visit at a larger venue, Jerusalem’s Binyanei Ha’umah, the International Assembly Hall. Obama, curious to see the famed Iron Dome anti-missile defense system, the product of vast financial support from the U.S., will not visit a battery in the field. Instead, in gratitude for the U.S. contributions to the project, Israel will bring an Iron Dome battery to the President. Obama will make his inspection as he disembarks Air Force One at Ben Gurion Airport, thus providing the President an opportunity to examine American bang for the buck.
The timing of the President’s visit comes with the release of an ABC/Washington Post poll underscoring the overwhelming support Israel enjoys in the United States. According to the poll, 55% of Americans sympathize with Israel while only 9% support the Palestinians. That 5:1 preference for Israel will hopefully be reflected in the President’s approach to Israel, though there are concerns that as a second term President with no fear of a backlash from the voters he will press Netanyahu for “confidence-building concessions” to persuade the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table. Sixty-nine percent of Americans feel the parties at the negotiating table should be the principals themselves, the Israelis and the Palestinians, and the United States should remain in the background.
I am hoping the President comes in like a lion with the snarls of traffic and roars of security sirens, but leaves like a lamb, gentle and pleasant, remembering the words that G-d spoke to Avraham, father of the Jewish people and all monotheism, “And I will bless those who bless you, and those who curse you, I will curse. And there shall be blessed through you all the families of the earth.”
If President Obama brings the will of the vast majority of the American public, offering support and blessings, then he in turn will have blessings rain down on him and the his taking Jerusalem by storm and all its inconveniences will have been well worth his time and trouble.
Meir Solomon is a writer, analyst and commentator living in Alon Shvut, Israel, with his wife and two children. He can be contacted at msolomon@Hamodia.com