President Obama is departing Tuesday night for his first trip to Israel, after a first term marked by a rocky relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Here are five things to watch for on his trip:
1. Substance, anyone? With virtually no prospects for progress on peace in the Middle East, Mr. Obama will instead devote much of his visit to photo-ops and staged events rather than policy talks. When the trip is over, will the White House try to claim anything substantive was achieved?
2. Mr. Netanyahu. Two years ago, then-French President Nicholas Sarkozy branded Mr. Netanyahu as “a liar” in a private conversation with Mr. Obama, and the president replied, “You’re fed up with him, but I have to deal with him even more often than you.” Mr. Obama will meet with the Israeli prime minister on this trip, and observers will be watching for any sign that their rift has either widened or narrowed, particularly on the hot-button issue of Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
3. Public appeal. The centerpiece of Mr. Obama’s trip will be a speech to Israeli youth. How will it be received, especially in light of a new poll showing that only 10 percent of Israelis have a favorable opinion of the U.S. president?
4. Plight of Christians. The president will visit the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, believed to be built on the site where Jesus was born, to call attention to the plight of Christians in the upheaval of the Arab spring. How forceful will his message be, and how much attention will the media give it?
5. Syria. In talks with Israeli leaders and with Jordan’s King Abdullah, Syria’s civil war is on the agenda. After two years of largely ineffective handling of Syria, will Mr. Obama come up with anything dramatically different that could lead to an end to the strife?