Can Obama Make Israelis Believe Again?

The American President poured on the charm in an effort to persuade Israelis and Palestinians to get back on the path to peace.

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Jason Reed / Reuters

President Barack Obama acknowledges the audience at the Jerusalem Convention Center, March 21, 2013.

The purpose of President Obama’s visit to Israel finally emerged on Thursday, in the ebullient afterglow of the speech that was billed as the centerpiece of his trip, and lived up to the billing. After a first term spent trying to alter the mechanics of the negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians over the land they both claim — tinkering with settlement freezes, summoning leaders to the White House — Obama decided on a new approach to Middle East peace: he’d talk them into it.

The master orator brought all his skills to the Jerusalem address, braiding emotion, history, reassurance, logic and personal charisma into a speech that did to the audience what a really good Obama speech can be relied upon to do: it lifted them out of themselves and made them think anything was possible. It was a stunning success, at least until his listeners return to the realities awaiting them right outside the auditorium (which stands behind the bus stop that was the scene of the last terror attack inside Jerusalem, a 2011 backpack bomb that killed one).

“He’s so good, I loved it even though I don’t agree with some of what he said,” says Gila Kordana, descending a staircase from the balcony in a crowd buzzing with the experience. Such as? “I’m not really for the idea of two states,” she says, not a small thing. Nor was she much taken with Obama’s take on the young Palestinians he’d seen earlier the same afternoon at the West Bank city of Al Bireh. “Talking to them,” he said, “they weren’t that different from my daughters. They weren’t that different from your daughters or sons.”

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