Jeffrey Goldberg gives Obama some questionable advice ahead of his trip to Israel:
To the Israelis, Obama needs to say two things at once. The first is simple: He needs to tell Israelis that he loves them.
I expect that Obama will include the usual boilerplate about how important he believes the relationship with Israel to be, as he has so many times before, and Israelis that dislike and distrust him for whatever reason will continue to do so. If Obama did as Goldberg advised, this wouldn’t impress any of the skeptics, and it would probably be somewhat embarrassing to Israelis that view him favorably. Aaron David Miller has repeatedly argued that this sort of emotional connection isn’t how Obama relates to Israel personally (“Obama isn’t in love with the idea of Israel”), and I think that’s mostly right. The more important point is that the president shouldn’t be expected to feel a certain way about another country in order to support the policies that he already supports, and he shouldn’t be faulted if he doesn’t express these feelings in an overt or fawning manner. Besides, there are few things more off-putting than faking an intensity of feeling that one doesn’t genuinely have (see Romney, Mitt). Do we really expect our presidents to love other nations? Isn’t this exactly the sort of attachment that Washington warned against?
Frankly, if there’s one thing that the U.S.-Israel relationship doesn’t need, it is yet another declaration of love. There have been at least twenty years of these statements, and they have had few effects other than identifying the U.S. with Israeli policies in the eyes of most of the world. There’s nothing wrong with showing appreciation for normal, constructive relations with another government, and there’s nothing wrong with praising the people of the country that the president happens to be visiting. When American politicians constantly gush about how much they adore Israel and the U.S.-Israel relationship (which is only slightly exaggerated in the recent SNL sketch), they act as enablers of reckless behavior and policies that will in the long-term be harmful to Israel. They also make themselves look ridiculous, but that’s a topic for another post.
I’m fairly confident that Obama isn’t going to cause himself a needless headache by revisiting the issue of settlements in a big way during his trip. He mishandled the issue in his first year, and it caused him a lot of grief there and in Washington without changing anything for the better. It would be surprising if he decided to do the same thing at the start of his second term.