The key moment in President Obama's Operation Desert Schmooze comes tomorrow, when he addresses a gathering of young Israelis at Jerusalem's convention center. This will be the moment, I think, when he actually pivots publicly to the challenges of peace process (today, it's all about stressing how much he loves Israel). My half-educated guess going in is that he will, in the first part of the speech, repeat some themes he discussed at his arrival ceremony earlier today -- he will stress the ancient Jewish connection to the land, and promise that the American alliance with Israel is "unbreakable." (Unbreakability is a theme of this visit; I'm sitting at the prime minister's residence, looking at Chuck Todd across the table from me, and his press pass reads, "Unbreakable Alliance." We also got mugs that read "Unbreakable Alliance," which, of course, we are tempted to try and break.)
After the extensive throat-clearing, I understand that Obama may use the upcoming Passover holiday -- which appears to be his favorite holiday (he holds a seder in the White House every year) -- to begin to raise questions about Israel's overall direction. (He will praise the Passover story, of course, and mention both its universality -- and especially its resonance among African-Americans -- but also its particularity, which is to say, that it is the story of a specific group's liberation in a specific place.) But what interests Obama a great deal about Passover is the questioning that is embedded in the Haggadah, the retelling of the Passover story that is read during the seder.
Questioning, and doubting, are integral to the Jewish tradition, and it would certainly be clever of Obama to use this tradition to his advantage. He has been trying for years, without success, to encourage Israelis to ask themselves how exactly the West Bank settlement project squares with their desire to maintain Israel as a Jewish-majority democracy. This speech, this visit, and this holiday, ally provide him with the opportunity to raise the question again.
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