NEW YORK — Weeks before the 2012 election, US President Barack Obama suggested he would wait to visit Israel until there was a good reason to do so.
“Given how important I think the situation in the Middle East is, and our partnership with Israel which is stronger than it’s ever been, when I go to Israel I want to make sure that we’re actually moving something forward,” Obama told NBC’s Brian Williams.
But just a day after announcing a visit in the spring to the Jewish state, the White House, the American ambassador in Israel and Israel’s ambassador to the US all sought to quell speculation that the visit was meant to signal a breakthrough in the peace process.
At the same time, other officials in Israel signaled that Obama’s visit would be to kick off new peace talks.
Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Michael Oren, told MSNBC that the purpose of the visit was not to relaunch peace talks.
“The White House has made very clear that the purpose of the trip is to strengthen an already historic bond between Israel and the United States. I think it sent a powerful message to the Middle East at a time of great uncertainty and upheaval throughout the region, and I think that is the purpose of the trip,” Oren said
“We’re delighted that he’s coming,” Oren said. “President Obama was always welcomed in Israel. He’ll be received enthusiastically by the government of Israel, by the prime minister of Israel, by the people of Israel.”
White House spokesman Jay Carney confirmed to reporters on Wednesday that Obama would bring no peace proposal with him, and will instead focus on discussions on issues of mutual concern to Israel and the US.
The timing of the visit is tied to the new administrations in both Israel and the United States, Carney said.
However, some officials have indicated the visit will include a new peace push,
Israel’s outgoing deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon said earlier Wednesday that Obama wants to host a summit between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during the visit, which is tentatively set for late March or early April. Ayalon said he was “certain” preparations for such a summit were already under way.
Yitzhak Molcho, the Netanyahu administration’s special envoy to Ramallah, will reportedly be dispatched to the US next week to discuss ways of advancing talks with the Palestinians, adding to speculation that a peace plan is in the works.
US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro told several Israeli media outlets Wednesday that “President Obama is not coming with conditions or demands. He is coming to confer with all our partners about problems and challenges we are dealing with in the region.” He said Obama would not seek “a specific result” in any discussions related to “bringing Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiation table.”
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.