WASHINGTON, March 17 (Xinhua) -- U.S. President Barack Obama is set to start a three-day visit to Israel, the Palestinian West Bank and Jordan on Tuesday night.
It will be Obama's first trip abroad after he assumed the office of U.S. president for the second four-year term in January.
However, no tangible results are likely to be achieved from the visit as Obama has ruled out any new Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative, and remained reluctant in committing any direct American military involvement in Syria's conflict and Iran's nuclear program.
ENGAGEMENT WITH HAMAS
When the trip was first announced, hopes were high that the president could help revive the moribund Middle East peace process. Yet Obama told an Israeli TV on Thursday that he has no grand peace plan and would only "listen" to both sides.
Back in early 2010, Obama persuaded Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas into direct talks in Washington, but the negotiations broke down only weeks later when Israel refused to extend a ban on settlement building in the West Bank.
Since then, the Palestinians have obtained an elevated status through the UN General Assembly while Netanyahu has allowed expanded settlement activities both in the West Bank and in east Jerusalem, which the Palestinians claim as the capital of their future independent state.
Meanwhile, Obama's pressure on Israel for concessions on settlement building and his refusal to set a red line for American military strikes on Iran's nuclear facilities have strained his relations with Netanyahu over the years.
In addition, the Middle East has undergone profound changes since Obama's last visit to the region in June 2009, with Washington's influence over the area declining.
The president, cognizant that he cannot do much for now, has chosen to put the peace process on the back burner, and focus instead on seeking a better relationship with Netanyahu while burnishing his image among the Israelis and the Palestinians.
In fact, as it is his first trip to Israel as president, Obama has with him a carefully prepared plan with the centerpiece being a speech in Jerusalem on Thursday afternoon to an audience mainly of Israeli students.
In the West Bank, apart from his meetings with Abbas and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in Ramallah, the U.S. president will visit a Palestinian youth center in an attempt to reach out to the young people there.
In Jordan, an analyst said, Obama himself or his staff would meet with people allied with the Hamas movement, which wrested control of the Gaza Strip in June 2007 from Fatah, which now runs the West Bank.
"Because in the past year and a half or so there has been sort of secret preparation to bring Hamas on board and to give Hamas basically what we can call a Fatah image," Ali al-Ahmed, director of the Washington-based Institute for Gulf Affairs think tank, told Xinhua in an interview.
Hamas is blacklisted by Washington as a terrorist group, but a peace agreement with Israel is unimaginable without its involvement.
Reconciliation agreements have been reached between Hamas and Fatah but failed to come to fruition.
"Remember Yasser Arafat was a terrorist one day, and he was in the White House the other day?" said al-Ahmed, referring to the late Palestinian leader. "This is going to be the same thing with Hamas."