Obama Visits Israel: Choosing Human Rights Over Politics

President Obama’s visit to Israel this week will mark the first time he travels to the country during his presidency, making him the fifth president to visit while in office. Among several items on the agenda, the president plans to discuss key issues such as the peace process with Palestine, the Iranian nuclear program, and the conflict in Syria.

While Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes gives us a generally promising snapshot of the president’s plans, Obama's agenda appears to be insufficiently focused on the issues at hand. Instead of exhausting his resources simply on politics and particularly appealing to the Israeli people, Obama must be mindful to leverage diplomatic relations for the primary purpose of addressing human rights.

Though Obama has made it clear that the negotiation of a two-state solution is a priority, his negative stance towards Palestine’s statehood bid in 2011 makes it all the more difficult to believe that this trip is being made with Palestine in mind. While there may be truth in the statement that peace cannot simply be achieved through a UN decision, it is equally unlikely that another round of talks devoid of any supporting actions will stop the incessant conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

American foreign policy on human rights has long been lackadaisical, marked by almost complete inaction most recently from some of the conflicts such as those in Rwanda, Bosnia, Myanmar and now even Syria. If the U.S. has nothing to gain, it is not getting involved. Though Rhodes explains that Obama will be meeting with the king of Jordan to discuss the fate of the Syrian refugees, the president’s decision to become involved only after many have died and been forced to flee their homes is disheartening.

It is understandable that the U.S. must keep strong ties with the Israel, the regional hegemony, so that the American government may further help its ally restore and stabilize the rest of the region. This is especially true when considering and grappling with the issue of Iran’s nuclear program. Keeping security threats at bay is necessary but keeping in mind that there are several other players in the nuclear arms race and that there are few substantial solutions to stifle the development of nuclear weapons, the probability of a nuclear war any time soon is unlikely.

Not only does President Obama’s focus on Iran appear to be aimed more for the benefit of Israel than the international community, but Rhodes' statement affirms any suspicion of this trip being made for the sole interest of Israel. In the video, Rhodes describes Obama’s intent to speak before a crowd mostly comprised of university students as the “true purpose” for his visit, saying that he would be discussing the bonds between the two countries and the future of their relationship.

Given Obama’s recent low approval rating in Israel, and his unfavorable relationship with  Prime Minister Netanyahu, these statements give the public little reason to believe that his trip is part of an initiative to improve conditions in the Middle East.

Whether Obama’s visit is being conducted out of pure political gain or a genuine aim to restore peace in the region, one thing is certain. The U.S. has thus far done little to remedy the human rights violations occurring within the region, and it is now time for Obama to use his this diplomatic move to bring real change to the Middle East.