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Obama's Mideast trip: how he plans to win over the Israeli public, and why (+video)

Obama's four-day Mideast trip will include hours of meetings with Prime Minister Netanyahu, but it's his overture to the Israeli public that may help him address regional issues in the future.

Obama to Israel: Iran will be at top of agenda
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President Obama’s visit to Israel, the West Bank, and Jordan this week is scheduled to include more than five hours of meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as the president seeks to reduce tensions with the leader of America’s closest Middle East ally on issues ranging from Iran to peace with the Palestinians.

But the trip, which begins Wednesday morning when Mr. Obama lands in Tel Aviv, is also about repairing relations with another audience that will be key to the president’s prospects for advancing important regional goals for his second term: the Israeli public.

“This trip is very much focused on the public diplomacy side [of relations with Israel], much less on the hard substance,” says Natan Sachs, an expert in Israeli foreign policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

The White House is calling a speech Obama will give to the Israeli public – with an audience made up largely of young people – the centerpiece of the president’s visit. “The speech,” Mr. Sachs says, “is the vehicle for the president to make his reintroduction” to a skeptical Israel.

Israelis, who never embraced Obama the way many other audiences around the world did, have never quite forgiven this American president for putting nearby Cairo on the list of sites for his first term’s signature global issues speeches – without even making a stop in Israel.

But Obama, with a speech that warms up his image among Israelis, would be able to win not just popularity points, but even critical support for US initiatives in the region, Sachs says.

“For the Israelis, it’s not, ‘What have you done for me lately,’ it’s ‘Do you love me?’ ” he says.

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