Merav said that while she was happy that Obama would see historic and cultural sites in Jerusalem, she could do with “less photo ops and more actual politicking.”
Dan Rimon, a 24-year-old student, said he was taking the week off from his studies in Jerusalem to avoid “the circus” surrounding the Obama trip. But Rimon said he was happy that Obama had singled out Israeli university students for his address in Jerusalem.
“I think Obama understands that change happens with the young generation, so it makes a lot of sense to me that he would reach out to us, of all people in Israel,” he said. “I just hope he delivers on the message.”
A better image among the Israeli public might help Obama’s icy relationship with Netanyahu, who faces his own challenges with a new coalition government that includes two rivals.
“Netanyahu reads the polls,” said Aaron David Miller, a vice president at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and a former adviser to Democratic and Republican secretaries of state. “If the view of Obama rises with the Israeli public, it will put additional pressure on Netanyahu. Both of them recognize that they’ve got to figure out a way to manage their differences.”
Obama may use the trip to determine whether the new government – and a potentially improved relationship – offers any new opportunity for restarting long-stalled peace talks with the Palestinians, Miller said.
“I don’t believe (Obama’s) prepared to leave office without trying to put his mark on an issue that so frustrated him during his first term,” Miller said. “This is not about accomplishing anything now. This is a down payment trip.”
In Ramallah, West Bank, however, Palestinians are far less optimistic about the visit.
“He may talk about ‘change’ and ‘hope’ in America, but he is bringing neither of those things to the people of Palestine,” said Mahmoud Maloof, a 41-year-old shopkeeper in Ramallah. “For us, every day without peace is another day that we do not have a state.”
He said that many Palestinians had lost their initial optimism that Obama would focus on resolving the decades-old conflict.
“We are very, very disappointed that the promises and words he had in the beginning, when he first became president, have turned out to be empty,” he said.
Sarai Hamdeel, a 45-year-old teacher in Ramallah, said Palestinians felt as if they were an “afterthought” for Obama.
“This is not a trip to make him popular in Palestine,” she said. “It’s a trip to make him popular in Israel.”