As President Obama departed Israel for Jordan after making his best case to Palestinians and Israelis to restart the peace process, there were some flickers of hope. The Israeli Defense Ministry opted for a measured response to the rocket attack Thursday, quietly announcing that they would restrict some fishing rights and temporarily close a major border crossing—through which Israeli goods travel to markets in Gaza.
Meanwhile the office of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas released a statement condemning “violence against civilians regardless [of] its source, including the rocket fire.” President Obama’s aids hope these small steps will lay the groundwork for an environment where both sides will resume the direct negotiations that have been stalled since 2008. To help the process along, Secretary of State John Kerry will return on Saturday to Jerusalem to continue talks with leaders from both sides.
In his last few hours in Israel, Obama paid homage to the history of the Jewish people and the Jewish state. He visited the grave of the founder of modern Zionism, Theodore Herzl , and laid stones at the grave of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli prime minister who signed the original Oslo Accords that began the peace process, now in its 20th year. At Rabin’s grave, he chatted with his daughter, telling her that the former prime minister “was a great man,” known for his exceptional speaking voice. Obama then visited Yad Vashem, the Israeli museum commemorating the Holocaust, before traveling to the West Bank to tour the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
On his final stop, in Jordan, Obama is expected to discuss the country’s current crisis: the soaring numbers of Syrian refugees flooding into the country. According to the latest count by the U.N. Refugee Agency, there are a little more than 366,000 refugees who have fled the country. Jordan’s government refutes the number, claiming 420,000 Syrian refugees have fled into their country.
Speaking to reporters Thursday night, a senior Obama administration official said Jordan’s regional security and refugee issue would be two of King Abdullah’s top subjects in talks with Obama. “They do have a significant refugee problem and we’re providing a lot of assistance to support Jordan and international organizations that are supporting the refugee population inside of Jordan,” the official said. The two leaders are also likely to discuss Jordan’s role in supporting the Syrian opposition.
In recent years the CIA in particular has built a strong relationship with their Jordanian counterparts. Jordan’s intelligence service has been essential for U.S. efforts to monitor Syrian chemical weapons stocks and contingency plans for security the material, according to U.S. intelligence officials.
Also on the to-do list in Jordan is a discussion with King Abdullah about his recent political reforms—including the country’s January 23 parliamentary elections. The controversial election was met with resistance by the Muslim Brotherhood who boycotted it due to allegations of irregularities. The National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, a U.S. non-governmental organization funded by the U.S. Congress, said their team of observers found the elections were better than previous ones in Jordan, but were nonetheless troubled by irregularities in the process.
While there was no major movement in Obama’s mission to restore peace to the Middle East, officials hope his final stop in Jordan will end the trip on a positive note.
“King Abdullah has been a very close partner to the United States,” the senior administration official told reporters. “We’ll be discussing with them how to move that reform agenda forward so that we have our stalwart ally, Jordan, moving in a direction of great reform.”