The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


March 23, 2013

Obama's Mideast trips leave behind hope and skepticism

AMMAN, Jordan — President Obama's mission of remedial diplomacy to Israel and the Palestinian territories was cast early on as one of modest ambition, a prolonged air-clearing between a U.S. leader and a region's public disillusioned by his once-ambitious approach to the Middle East.

But over the four-day visit, Obama's broader goal emerged as one both more basic and, perhaps, essential than initially portrayed: To rescue the decades-old idea that Israelis and Palestinians — after years of military occupation, war, terrorist attacks and settlement construction — can live together in side-by-side states between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

"The question is whether there can be real peace here," said Tzachi Shickman, a Hebrew University student , who attended Obama's centerpiece speech Thursday at the Jerusalem International Convention Center. "A Palestinian state could bring more attacks on us."

Shickman's ambivalence captures in microcosm the mix of hope and skepticism left behind by Obama's visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories, his first as president. The trip concluded Saturday here in Jordan, where he visited the ancient rose-colored city of Petra, carved into the cliff sides of the country's south.

Obama's words often have stirred even skeptical foreign audiences, as they did during his June 2009 speech in Cairo.

That address, though, still sits at the center of his uneasy relationship with Israel, which he used this trip to try to repair. He pledged new funding for Israeli antimissile systems, reiterated his promise to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon and told Jews in a stilted if heartfelt Hebrew, "You are not alone."

In a series of symbolic visits, Obama also celebrated the ancient Jewish connection to the land that now comprises its modern state. The acknowledgment served as a precursor to his unequivocal defense of Palestinian rights to dignity, freedom and statehood — words that brought a mostly young Israeli audience to its feet.

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