The White House said Tuesday that Barack Obama will visit Israel for the first time since traveling there as a presidential candidate in 2008. March 20th has been reported as the tentative date for the trip.
After Benjamin Netanyahu won the Israeli election for Prime Minister in January, he and Obama spoke by phone and discussed the possibility of Obama visiting. Obama will travel to Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) before travelling to Jordan during his time in the region.
National Security Council Spokesman Tommy Vietor said:
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.
Obama has been criticized for his refusal to visit Israel as president, often seen as a corollary to his rude treatment of Netanyahu. It has been noted that Obama stopped in Egypt in 2009 soon after he was elected but did not visit Israel.
Last week, White House spokesman Jay Carney said, "This country's commitment to Israel's security is unshakeable. It has been reflected in this administration's commitment to Israel's security, demonstrated by the very specific actions that are unprecedented that have been taken by this administration on behalf of Israel's security."
Carney has also stated that Obama intends to work closely on regional concerns with Palestinian Authority and Jordanian officials.
Although Netanyahu's office in Jerusalem had no comment, the timing of Obama’s visit is suspicious; Netanyahu is faced with a mid-March deadline to build a coalition to keep governing. As many Israelis remember all too well, Bill Clinton once sabotaged Netanyahu in favor of the dovish Ehud Barak.