Sparse Crowds of Israelis Greet Barack Obama on Arrival in Jerusalem

Hundreds of Banners Line Streets, But Well-Wishers Are Few

getty images

By Reuters

Published March 20, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Multi Page

Making his first official visit to Israel, U.S. President Barack Obama pledged on Wednesday unwavering commitment to the security of the Jewish State where concern over a nuclear-armed Iran has clouded U.S.-Israeli relations.

He also stressed the need for Middle East peace at the start of a three-day trip, which is aimed at resetting strained relations with both the Israelis and Palestinians, but is not expected to provide new initiatives or substantial policy moves.

Descending from Air Force One in bright Spring sunshine, Obama briefly embraced Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with whom he has notoriously testy ties, before offering smiles and handshakes to waiting ranks of ministers.

“I see this visit as an opportunity to reaffirm the unbreakable bond between our nations, to restate America’s unwavering commitment to Israel’s security and to speak directly to the people of Israel and to your neighbours,” Obama said at a red-carpet welcoming ceremony at Tel Aviv airport.

“I am confident in declaring that our alliance is eternal, is forever,” he said, adding the Hebrew word for forever – “Lanetzach” – to emphasis the upbeat message.

Obama faces strong doubts among Israelis over his pledge to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran and concerns that the civil war in neighbouring Syria might spill over the border, with Western powers reluctant to get involved.

The U.S. president said last week he believed Iran was still more than a year away from developing an atomic weapon and is counselling nervous Israelis to show patience, vowing to use all options to stop a nuclear-armed Tehran.

Shortly after leaving Air Force One, Obama was told by an official to “follow the red line” marked on the tarmac as he set off to see an Israeli-made Iron Dome anti-missile battery.

Standing alongside Netanyahu, Obama joked: “He’s always talking to me about red lines” – a reference to Israel’s demand that Washington establish a red line for Iran’s nuclear programme. “So this is all a psychological ploy,” he added.

PUSHING FOR PEACE

In his own welcoming remarks, Netanyahu cited an Israeli right to self-defence, which he said Obama supported. The Israeli leader had some fence-mending of his own with Obama after the 2012 U.S. presidential campaign during which Netanyahu appeared to favour Obama’s opponent, Republican Mitt Romney.

“Thank you for unequivocally affirming Israel’s sovereign right to defend itself by itself against any threat,” the right-wing Israeli leader said.

Speaking on the tarmac, Obama voiced his hopes for peace - without directly mentioning Palestinians, whom he will meet with on Thursday in the occupied West Bank.

“We stand together because peace must come to the Holy Land,” Obama said. “Even as we are clear eyed about the difficulties, we will never lose sight of the vision of an Israel at peace with its neighbours.”

U.S.-sponsored peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians have been stalled since 2010 in a dispute over Israeli settlement-building in the occupied West Bank.

The White House has deliberately minimised hopes of any major breakthroughs, a reversal from Obama’s first four years in office when aides said he would visit the Jewish state only if he had something concrete to accomplish.

With both Obama and Netanyahu just starting new terms and mindful that they will have to work together on volatile issues for years to come, they will be looking to avoid the kind of public confrontation that has marked past encounters.

The pair are due to hold a news conference at 8.10 p.m. (1810 GMT) after an initial round of talks.

QUIET STREETS

Shortly after landing in Tel Aviv, Obama’s entourage flew by helicopter to nearby Jerusalem and then drove to his city centre hotel. Hundreds of banners boasting of “an unbreakable alliance” hung from lampposts, but only sparse crowds turned out to watch the president’s motorcade drive through shut-off streets.

Seeking to connect directly with an often sceptical Israeli public, Obama will make a speech to a group of carefully screened students on Thursday afternoon where he is expected to touch on major topics of concern, including Iran.

Israel and the United States agree that Iran should never get a nuclear bomb, dismissing Tehran’s assertion that its atomic programme is peaceful. However, the two allies are at odds over how fast the clock is ticking down on the need for preventative military action should diplomacy fail.

U.S. officials say Obama, the fifth sitting U.S. president to travel to Israel, will urge further caution, with Washington worried that a threatened Israeli unilateral strike might drag the United States into another Middle East war.

Obama will fly by helicopter the short distance between Jerusalem and the West Bank city of Ramallah on Thursday to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, avoiding having to cross the Israeli separation barrier that divides the two cities.

Abbas’s allies have expressed bitter disappointment over the lack of fresh U.S. moves. “It’s not a positive visit,” said Wasel Abu Yousef, a senior official in the Palestine Liberation Organization, led by Abbas.

Netanyahu told Obama at the airport that he was committed to securing peace with the Palestinians, but Western diplomats in Jerusalem remain largely sceptical.

The Israeli leader has just forged a coalition government containing fervent supporters of settlement building in the West Bank, which the U.S. has strongly criticised as a major impediment to lasting peace with the Palestinians.

Along the reception line, Obama stopped only briefly to shake hands with pro-settler leader Naftali Bennett, but had a long exchange with new Finance Minister Yair Lapid, who heads a centrist movement and has said peace-making is a priority.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • "A few decades ago, it would have been easy to add Jews to that list of disempowered victims. I could throw in Leo Frank, the victim of mob justice; or otherwise privileged Jewish men denied entrance to elite universities. These days, however, we have to search a lot harder." Are you worried about what's going in on #Ferguson?
  • Will you accept the challenge?
  • In the six years since Dothan launched its relocation program, 8 families have made the jump — but will they stay? We went there to find out:
  • "Jewish Israelis and West Bank Palestinians are witnessing — and living — two very different wars." Naomi Zeveloff's first on-the-ground dispatch from Israel:
  • This deserves a whistle: Lauren Bacall's stylish wardrobe is getting its own museum exhibit at Fashion Institute of Technology.
  • How do you make people laugh when they're fighting on the front lines or ducking bombs?
  • "Hamas and others have dredged up passages form the Quran that demonize Jews horribly. Some imams rail about international Jewish conspiracies. But they’d have a much smaller audience for their ravings if Israel could find a way to lower the flames in the conflict." Do you agree with J.J. Goldberg?
  • How did Tariq Abu Khdeir go from fun-loving Palestinian-American teen to international icon in just a few short weeks? http://jd.fo/d4kkV
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.