High hopes from New Yorkers for Obama's trip to Israel
New York's Jewish leaders and groups are optimistic that President Barack Obama's first trip to Israel and the West Bank while in office will foster future peace talks.
Obama will land in Israel Wednesday where he will meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres, as well as give a speech to Israeli university students in Jerusalem. Obama will also meet with Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, West Bank.
Assemb. Dov Hikind (D-Brooklyn) said the trip is important to strengthen ties between the U.S. and Israel, a country Obama visited only as a presidential candidate in 2008.
"The Middle East has changed dramatically," Hikind said, noting the crisis in Syria and the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
"I hope the relationship between Obama and Netanyahu will become a closer one. It'll be very healthy for the people of Israel and the United States," he added.
Talia Benamy, a chair of J Street NYC, a group that supports a two-state solution, said Obama's trip and a speech directly to the Israelis will show Jewish people there and at home that he understands their security concerns.
"It's an important first step for President Obama to establish trust with the Israeli people that he can use in the future to push for a solution," Benamy explained.
Firas Masri, a former Palestinian diplomat who participates in a Brooklyn-based nonprofit called the Dialogue Project, wants Obama to mention Palestinians' difficult economic situation and their treatment in Israeli prisons.
"Security for Israel is fine [to discuss], but President Obama should address the daily life of Palestinians," Masri said. "This is crucial for us."