Obama to visit Israel in 2011

By Anshel Pfeffer, September 2, 2010

President Barack Obama will visit Israel and the Palestinian Authority in a few months' time if the peace process continues, according to White House officials.

Mr Obama has been criticised by Americans and Israelis for not addressing both sides of the conflict directly during the first 18 months of his presidency. The president visited the region early in his term for a much-publicised speech in Cairo, but pointedly left Israel off his itinerary.

The intention of the administration to engage more closely with the Israeli public is linked to the warmer tone of the president's personal relationship with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, after the more combative attitude in his first year of office failed to yield any breakthrough.

A sign of the new attitude was the exclusive interview the president gave Channel Two in the White House two months ago, his first to Israeli media, following a meeting with Mr Netanyahu.

Senior White House officials have now promised Jewish leaders in the US that a visit to Israel is being planned, most likely in early 2011, along with a visit to Ramallah. One US diplomat said that "we know Netanyahu has trouble convincing the Israeli public and his coalition to back a peace initiative and the president is willing to do what it takes to help him there".

Last updated: 2:34pm, September 2 2010