As Obama Begins Mideast Trip, Focus Is on Israel
By Ben Pershing
President Obama arrived in Saudi Arabia minutes ago, and as he begins a trip designed to improve his country's relationship with the Muslim world, America's relationship with a key ally -- Israel -- is just as much in the spotlight.
Obama's visit and his much-anticipated speech in Cairo Thursday come as his administration is putting increased pressure on Israel to halt settlement activity. The Associated Press says "Obama has gotten tough with Israel ... in what appears to be a clear break from decades of U.S. policy." The timing of Obama's shift hasn't been lost on anyone, including Israel supporters in the president's own party, who fret that he is being too tough on the Jewish state. Ehud Barak, Israel's defense minister, met with top U.S. officials in Washington yesterday in an effort to defuse tensions over the settlement issue. Barak got a surprise visit from Obama himself (leading to the inevitable "Barak Meets Barack" headline).
But will taking a stronger stance toward Israel be enough for Obama to make real headway in the Middle East? Anthony Shadid writes that as Obama attempts to reach out to the Muslim world, "he will face the legacy of names like Haditha, Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib." The Wall Street Journal says Obama "will face a cynical -- and in some corners, hostile -- audience" for his speech. A Gallup poll taken in March showed that only 25 percent of Egyptians approve of the job performance of U.S. leaders, though that number is roughly double what it was for much of George W. Bush's presidency.
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