President Obama leaves Tuesday evening for his first visit to Israel as president. The White House is downplaying expectations for peace, but his visit may be more of a "charm offensive" toward the Israeli people and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
"Personal relationships will take you a long way," said Senator Ben Cardin, a Democrat from Maryland and member of the foreign relations committee, on Jansing & Co. Tuesday.
Netanyahu and Obama have not traditionally had the warmest relationship, a poll of Israelis by the daily newpaper, Maariv, found that 38% of Israelis believe President Obama is hostile to Israel, 14% think he's indifferent, and only one-third believe he is supportive of the state. In his attempt to win over Israelis, the president will visit the dead sea scrolls at the Israel museum, and lay a wreath at Zionist visionary Theodor Herzl's tomb.
He will also address Israelis directly in a speech.
"This is a big deal. They're really looking forward to the president being there. They look at it as a major opportunity, not only for the president to communicate with the Israelis, but to help with the major issues—you've mentioned them—Iran, Syria, and the peace process with the Palestinians...I think the Israelis look at the president's visit as putting a spotlight on trying to make progress," said Cardin.
President Obama will also have to carefully negotiate the issue of Palestinian statehood during his meeting with Mahmoud Abbas.
'I think the President will be very clear that the president supports that, but the way to get there is direct negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians. That you can't short cut it through the United Nations. I think the President will make that point very clear. It might look good for a press release to be able to say you're getting some progress at the U.N. - but the only way we're going to be able to achieve that two-state solution is through direct negotiations," he said.