President Obama is back in Washington. By all accounts he can rate his trip to Israel as a major success. To start with, he achieved his initial goal. He transformed from being a US President who was clearly not liked, into a President who is popular in the State of Israel. He said all the right words, made all the right gestures, and showed all the right enthusiasm. Israelis have made a remarkable metamorphosis over the course of the last week– with over 30% of the population saying that in the aftermath of President Obama's visit they think more highly of him. In addition, as a result of their mutual need, it would seem President Obama and PM Netanyahu have succeeded in wiping away the personal animosity that existed between them. During the first day of Obama's visit commentator were saying that the changes were "all atmospherics", and not real. By the third day there was a feeling the two men could not be such good actors. Clearly something has changed.
Of course, the most immediate change was Netanyahu’s call to Erodwan. The call took place right before Obama boarded Air Force One heading to Jordan. Netanyahu’s apology was long in coming, and by all accounts would have happened two years ago, if it was not for the determined opposition of (then Foreign Minister) Lieberman. Today, with Syria falling apart, it was clear to all that the call to Turkey had to be made. Thus, Obama served as a convenient excuse, allowing him to chalk up win. Repairing our relationship with Turkey is a strategic imperative. Hopefully, this will at least allow our relationship with Turkey to migrate from the Freezer to the Refrigerator.
Secretary of State John Kerry has stayed behind in the region to meet with Netanyahu and Abbas on Saturday. There is a sense that Kerry has made some progress. It seems Netanyahu has been more flexible than expected– with both President Obama and President Peres allegedly commenting privately that it looks like Netanyahu has decided not to waste this term by refusing to try to move the process along. Most observers seem very skeptical, while at the same time trying to be cautiously optimistic. I concur with their views.