February 6, 2013- Obama Coming to Israel. Why? Marc Schulman

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Israel Update
A Daily Analysis
By Marc Schulman

February 6, 2013- Obama Coming to Israel. Why?

Last night Israel's Channel 10 broke the news that President Obama was coming to Israel next month for a visit. This story caught the entire country completely by surprise. there had been some talk of Obama coming here in June for Shimon Peres 90th birthday party. However, that Presidential visit was allegedly contingent upon there having been substantial progress here on the peace front.

So why is President Obama coming here? What does it mean? First off, let me start by clarifying that anything I say on this matter is pure speculation. To be more accurate, I am mostly reporting the speculation of others. There are two prevailing, though totally opposing views of why President Obama has chosen to visit at the moment. The first view holds that Obama heard statements from Netanyahu after the election that he had never heard before, and that as a result, President Obama believes he can truly work with Netanyahu now to bring about possible advancement in the peace talks. The second hypothesis is that Obama has heard nothing from Netanyahu, and he believes he needs to come to pressure Netanyahu into making concessions. In my opinion, the answer is possibly closer to the first view (as hard as that is to believe). I think it became clear to Netanyahu that another 4 year of doing nothing with regard to the Peace Process is not a plan. In addition, he needs something to take people eyes away from the upcoming pain of the budget talks.

Of course the meeting with Obama has had an impact on coalition talks. Last night, (before the word of the visit leaked out) all the discussions focused on the meeting that was scheduled to take place between Netanyahu and Shelly Yachimovich, (head of the Labor Party) was denigrating in nature. The meeting was merely an attempt to go through the motions and sow a little mistrust inside the Labor faction- with the long-time Labor Knesset members just itching to get into the government and take back their plum jobs. Now, the meeting takes on a completely different light. Netanyahu can claim that he needs all of their help to bring about peace. It seems this line has already worked on Tzipi Livni, who has agreed to join the coalition. No surprise there. It was clear from the last Knesset that being an opposition Knesset member did not sit well with her sense of self.

Where the negotiations are going now is not at all clear. Netanyahu is still trying to get a broad-based coalition. To date, Lapid and Bennet seem to agree on keeping out the Haredim. Netanyahu clearly does not want to be dependent on Bennet– where there is bad family blood, nor with Lapid- who he sees as a potential rival. On top of all this, the chances of Shas and Bayit Hayehudi (Bennet) coming to an understanding were harmed significantly tonight with the publishing of the Shas newspaper in which HaBayit Hayehudi was once again referred to as "HaBayit L'Goyim" and was compared to Amalik.

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