Obama plays tourist in Jordan
RAW VISION: US President, Barack Obama, ends his Mideast trip with a visit to Petra, an ancient desert city in Jordan.PT0M0S 620 349
He came to woo the Israeli public and woo them he did, with endless symbolic gestures and a speech that won over many on both the right and left of the political spectrum.
''He had us at 'Shalom','' read the headline in The Jerusalem Post following US President Barack Obama's three-day visit to Israel and Palestine. But it was a diplomatic breakthrough in the final hour of his trip that may have the greatest impact in a region beset with sectarian tensions and amid growing alarm at the conflict in Syria.
Just as Air Force One was due to take off for the next stop on the President's trip - Jordan - there was an unexpected development. At Obama's instigation, Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to offer Israel's apology over the deaths of nine Turkish citizens killed in the Israeli commando raid on Mavi Marmara, part of a Turkish aid flotilla that was attempting to break Israel's naval blockade and sail to Gaza. Erdogan accepted the apology.
Peace broker: US President Barack Obama participates in a farewell ceremony with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo: Reuters
In one deft move, Obama had brokered an end to a three-year stand-off between two of the US's closest allies in the region, bringing Israel out of a state of diplomatic isolation, creating a more supportive environment for Turkey to weather the Syrian storm and realigning the three countries in their shared goal of curtailing Iran's nuclear program.
Netanyahu, in a post on his Facebook page, said the deteriorating situation in Syria was one of the main factors behind his decision to resolve the stand-off with Turkey, while Erdogan noted that his country's renewal of ties with Israel may hasten the fall of President Bashar al-Assad.
Syria was also on top of the US agenda during Obama's visit to neighbouring Jordan over the weekend, where up to 2000 Syrian refugees are fleeing every day, placing enormous pressure on both the Zaatari refugee camp and towns along the Syrian border.
Jordan's King Abdullah said there were 460,000 refugees in Jordan and warned that number could double as the situation further deteriorates. Obama pledged an extra $US200 million ($192 million) in aid to help Syrian refugees in Jordan.
King Abdullah also said Jordan was prepared to act as a ''facilitator'' for direct negotiations between Israel and Palestine for a two-state solution.
But while Obama wooed Israelis on his three-day visit, he offered few symbolic gestures to win over Palestinians. In the West Bank cities of Bethlehem and Ramallah, where the President met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and visited the Church of the Nativity, there were almost universally glum assessments of the impact it will have on conditions on the ground for Palestinians.
The US did, however, announce on Friday it had released nearly $US500 million in aid to the Palestinian Authority, frozen as punishment for the PA's bid for statehood in the United Nations.
But releasing aid already promised to the Palestinian Authority was a far cry from a halt to settlement construction and the release of prisoners that many Palestinians were hoping for from the US visit.
Instead, Obama focused on winning the hearts and minds of the Israeli public. Raising the spectre of Israel's three most hated adversaries - Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran - Obama then gently guided Israelis back towards the idea of peace with the Palestinians.
''The only way for Israel to endure and thrive as a Jewish and democratic state is through the realisation of an independent and viable Palestine,'' he said to Israeli students in Jerusalem.
''The only way to truly protect the Israeli people is through the absence of war, because no wall is high enough, and no Iron Dome is strong enough, to stop every enemy from inflicting harm.''
It is now up to US Secretary of State John Kerry to follow up Obama's powerful speech with some real movement.