Obama Speaks to Israel's 'Skepticism'

By Marc Ambinder

Below are excerpts of an interview with President Obama by Channel 2's Yonit Levi. It'll air in full at 1:00 pm ESat T.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, look, it's always a challenge. One of the things I used to say during the campaign but also at the beginning of my presidency is, being hopeful is not the same as being blindly optimistic. I think you have to be clear-eyed about the situation.

And Israelis, rightly, look at the past and have skepticism about what's possible. They see the enmity of neighbors that surround them in a very tough neighborhood. They see a track record of attempts at peace where, even when concessions were made, a deal could not be consummated. They see rockets fired from Gaza or from areas in Lebanon, and say to themselves that the hatreds or history are so deep-seated that changed is not possible.

And yet, if you think back to the founding of Israel, there were a lot of people who thought that that wasn't possible either. And if Herzl or Ben-Gurion were looking at Israel today, they would be astonished at what they saw -- a country that's vibrant, that is growing economically at a extraordinary pace, that has overcome not just security challenges but also has been able to overcome challenges related to geography. And so that should be a great source of hope.

Levi:  Can you tell us what is the thing you miss most about your life before the presidency?

THE PRESIDENT: Taking walks. There is a value to anonymity in terms of just being able to wander around, sit on a park bench, take your kids to get ice cream without having Secret Service and helicopters over you. That part of this life I'll never get used to. In fact, I remember when I first visited Jerusalem, I could wander through the Old City and haggle for some gifts to bring back to Michelle, or stand at the Wailing Wall, and people didn't know who I was. And that is a profound pleasure that is very hard to experience now.

The last time -- the second time I went to the Wailing Wall, I put my prayer -- and somebody pulled it out, and the next thing I know it was printed in the newspaper. (Laughter.)
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Levi: I'd like to actually open up by asking you about hope, which was such a prominent notion in your campaign and in your presidency. And how can you convey that concept of hope to Israelis, who've seen so many failed attempts at a peace process?

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2010/07/obama-speaks-to-israels-skepticism/59330/