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March 22, 2013

A Recap of Obama’s Visit: Quick Headlines, Measured Perspective, Exclusive Numbers

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Photo

Peres, Obama, and Netanyahu, photo by Reuters

The 111-word executive summary

What are the headlines from this visit?

  1. Obama gets Zionism. That’s very significant – maybe the most significant thing about the visit.
  2. It is important enough for Obama (for whatever reason) to be making an effort to show empathy for Israel.
  3. He is still naïve enough to think that talking to “young people” with pathos can change well-established realities.
  4. Obama and Netanyahu can have a civil discussion and a civil disagreement. The era of bickering is over (at least for now).
  5. The Palestinians have a decision to make – there’s no longer point in waiting for the Americans to force Israel into preconditioned concessions.
  6. Iran is a problem. That’s where the two countries clearly disagree.

 

A diplomat’s conclusion

One phone call, one man speaking about the visit a little before it ends. The guy is an Israeli diplomat and that’s all I can say about him.

“Stop looking for trouble", he said, "this was a great visit. Of course there are many things on which we disagree- so what? The United States and Israel have many common interests but also have different outlooks on many issues. That’s not the point. The point was to end this nonsensical feeling of disconnection between this President and Israel and to put an end to the unnecessary bickering. I think we’ve achieved that, I think Obama deserves a lot of credit from Israelis for making this effort to come here and make the statements that he made”.

 

A writer’s conclusion

In next week's print edition of the Jewish Journal, you can read a longer article about the aftermath of the Obama visit. It will include, among other things, these two paragraphs:

To grab readers’ attention, a writer is driven to make a choice – either this visit was essential and very successful, or it was a failure, a shame and a waste of time. Black or white. Shades of gray are only popular in steamy books of bluish nature.

The truth though, is that Obama’s visit was a grayish event. It was a feel-good trip offering the hope for better relations and to clear the air, making future debates between the two governments less contentious. That has merit and should be enough to have made Obama’s trip a worthy one.

 

A pollster’s conclusion

Israeli columnists were quick to declare this morning that Obama and “Israel” are in love, that he has overcome all the previous suspicions and misgivings. That might be true, but it is still more wishful thinking than an established fact. There are very few polls from recent days, and we’ll have to wait a few more days for the visit’s impression to sink in (and for Pesach to pass) before we have enough polling data to determine how strong the impact of this visit really was.

However, I do have some numbers for you from a poll by Panels Politics, sent to me by Menachem Lazar. These numbers were presented by Lazar on the Knesset Channel on Thursday, but he informed me that he kept collecting data into Thursday afternoon so we’d have a more up to date picture. We must remember, though, that the data presented here was gathered before the speech to students – before Obama voiced his plea for the end of the Israeli occupation and for a Palestinian state, and before calling on Israelis to force their leaders into adopting new policies. The speech was powerful, no doubt, but it might have actually made Obama less popular with some Israelis. In the Channel 1 TV studio where I spent this morning as a commentator, General turned politician Uzi Dayan said that the speech was “inappropriate”, and that such a speech would never have passed had an Israeli PM attempted it with American students.

Anyway, the numbers:

Following the visit “very closely” and “closely”: 29%. Not good for Obama – because if people weren't really following, the impact will probably be less notable. 56% were following it without much intensity, and 15% had no interest.

22% said that their view of Obama has improved because of the visit. 58% said no change, 19% said it’s too early, 1% said their view has changed for worse. All in all: seems good. That is, unless the only people whose view was improved are the same people who held a positive view of the president to begin with.

63% said that the visit will help improve US-Israel relations. 28% said it won't.

50% said they don’t expect the visit to advance Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, 51% said they expect it to improve the handling of the Iranian issue, 54% would like Obama to come again (13% said don’t come again), 63% said that the Jonathan Pollard issue should have been “central” to the talks between Obama and his Israeli counterpart (23% said that it shouldn't). 604 Israelis answered this poll which has a 3.8% margin of error.

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