- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 5, 2013

After taking heat from Republicans for failing to make the trip during his first term in office, President Obama will make his first visit to Israel as president in the coming months, the White House confirmed Tuesday.

With Israeli and Palestinian leaders at odds over how to restart peace talks, reports in Israel say Mr. Obama will arrive March 20, but White House spokesman Jay Carney would only confirm that the trip will take place this spring.

The president committed to the visit during a phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week, Mr. Carney said.

Details of the trip “will be released at a later time,” he added.

In addition to Israel, the White House said the president will visit the West Bank and Jordan. Mr. Netanyahu was elected to another term in office earlier this month, although with a weakened political coalition.

“The start of the president’s second term and the formation of a new Israeli government offer the opportunity to reaffirm the deep and enduring bonds between the United States and Israel and to discuss the way forward on a broad range of issues of mutual concern, including Iran and Syria,” said National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor.

Mr. Obama visited Israel as a presidential candidate in 2008, but he has not been back since becoming president.

He and Mr. Netanyahu did not always see eye to eye during Mr. Obama’s first term. The two leaders got into a particularly public feud in May 2011 when the prime minister sat alongside Mr. Obama in the Oval Office and angrily denounced any attempt to convince Israel to use its 1967 borders as the starting point for negotiations on the creation of an adjacent Palestinian state. Mr. Obama had suggested the move in a major speech the day before.

Days later, Mr. Obama clarified his remarks in a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee annual conference, repeatedly arguing that his comments had been misinterpreted and he was a “real friend” of Israel.

In his remarks, Mr. Obama agreed that Israel could not go back to the 1967 borders as they were, and that “mutually agreed” land swaps would be necessary. Yet, to the consternation of some at the conference, he continued to suggest that Israel’s actions were creating delays that were unacceptable to the international community.

Mr. Obama visited Israel in 2008, but his failure to visit the country after his election has been a political sore spot. Mr. Obama last summer first pledged to make the trip if he was re-elected, when Republican challenger Mitt Romney was attacking the president’s Israeli policies and vowing to make an early trip to Tel Aviv if he won in November.

Mr. Romney and Mr. Netanyahu also had close ties dating back to their time as business consultants together. The Israeli leader denied backing either candidate but was widely perceived as preferring Mr. Romney.

• This article was based in part on wire service reports.



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