White House Press Secretary Jay Carney confirmed on Tuesday reports in the Israeli media that President Barack Obama would be visiting Israel, for the first time as president.
Obama will also visit the Palestinian Authority and Jordan “to continue his close work with Palestinian Authority officials and Jordanian officials,” Carney added, according to a report on CNN.
Carney added that “additional details, including dates of travel, will be released at a later time.”
He said that Obama discussed the visit while on the phone with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on January 28, shortly after the prime minister was re-elected for the third time in last month’s election.
“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 of course Iran and Syria,” Carney said, according to CNN.
Obama visited Israel during his 2008 campaign for president but did not visit Israel during his first term in office.
Colin Kahl, a former deputy assistant secretary of Defense for the Middle East, said a few months ago Americans can “expect” President Barack Obama to visit Israel during his second term.
In July, former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton criticized Obama for not visiting Israel as president.
Chiding the president for recently playing his 100th round of golf since taking office, Bolton said, “Obama has been in office three and a half years and he has had time to do more fundraisers than any other first-term American president; has probably played more rounds of golf than any other president since Dwight Eisenhower. And yet he has not had time to fit into his busy schedule even one trip to Israel.”
Obama’s visit was welcomed by Israeli politicians on Tuesday evening. Hatnua chairwoman Tzipi Livni said that she hopes that during their second terms, Netanyahu and Obama will be wise enough to start a diplomatic process with the PA, for the benefit of the common interest of both Israel and the United States.
Netanyahu has publicly named the resumption of Israel-PA talks as one of his top priorities for his upcoming term. The head of Israel’s second-largest party, Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid, has declared that his party will join the government only if there are serious efforts to resume negotiations.
Reports this week indicated that Netanyahu’s public statements on renewing the peace talks have been an attempt to convince Livni to join his coalition. Livni, whose party achieved six Knesset seats, placed Israel-PA talks as a top priority in her agenda during the election.
The PA has so far refused to talk with Netanyahu unless Israel agrees to several conditions, including a full construction freeze everywhere east of the 1949 armistice line, including much of Jerusalem.
PA leaders have also demanded that Israel release terrorist prisoners, allow weapons imports, and agree in principle to giving the PA all of Judea and Samaria, with possible land swaps, for the creation of a new Arab state.