With the red carpet still under its protective wrap, an incessant flurry of uniforms from all branches of Israel's security forces, as well as dignitaries, diplomats and reporters from all over the world gathered under a blue sky Wednesday morning to await the arrival of US President Barack Obama on his first visit since taking office in 2009.
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Obama boarded Air Force One on Tuesday night in Washington and departed for Israel.
The three-day state visit will encompass trips to Yad Vashem, Mount Herzl and the Israel Museum, as well as the obligatory series of meetings with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Obama will then head to Jordan to meet with King Abdullah II.
Click here for full JPost coverage of Obama's visit
Some 1,000 people in total were to be at the airport. Netanyahu, along with President Shimon Peres and the newly sworn-in cabinet, will greet Obama after he lands at around 12:30 p.m. Strains of the 50-person orchestra rehearsing the US national anthem competed with the sound checks and a solo trumpeter running through scales.
The president will then helicopter to Jerusalem for a reception at the President’s Residence. This was to be followed by a marathon three-part meeting with Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s Residence: an initial two and- a-half hour meeting, followed by a 20-minute press conference, and then a dinner.
The visit, announced last month, will cover a host of hot topics, including the increasingly precarious situation in Syria, Iran's nuclear ambitions and a moribund peace process. Netanyahu's new government includes rightist partners such as Bayit Yehudi, whose pro-settler affiliation may well have raised some eyebrows at the State Department in recent weeks. Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett has called for Israel to annex huge swathes of the West Bank, while foreign minister in waiting Avigdor Liberman of Yisrael Beytenu has announced that he will oppose any idea of a new settlement freeze.
and Netanyahu are expected to publicly paper
over any differences on Iran during the American leader’s visit, with Netanyahu to express appreciation for the
president’s repeated comment that Israel has the right to defend itself
by itself against any threat.
In addition to thanking Obama for
his rhetorical support on this issue, Netanyahu – according to
government officials – will also express Israeli gratitude to the US for
its material support in this matter as well.
A number of Israeli
officials, as well as many of the country’s supporters abroad, have been
lobbying for years to put Israel on Obama’s travel itinerary, saying
his failure to visit during his first term sent the wrong message both
to Israel and other countries in the region.
Obama’s passing over
Israel during his first term, while visiting Egypt, Turkey and Saudi
Arabia, became a hot issue in the recent US elections.
is expected to express his appreciation to Obama for visiting at the
outset of his second term, and say that this demonstrates the depth of
the relationship between the two countries.
Both senior Israeli
and US officials have said the 50-hour visit, much of which will be
spent in Netanyahu’s company, will go a long way toward setting the tone
of the two leaders’ relationship over the next four
US Secretary of State John Kerry
arrived in Israel Tuesday evening, preceding the president by some 19 hours. He
did not have any scheduled meetings.
Kerry’s itinerary, however,
indicates that he will delve immediately into the nitty-gritty of the
Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic process. While Kerry will accompany Obama to
Jordan on Friday, unlike the president who will fly from Amman to Washington the
next day, Kerry will return to Jerusalem Saturday night for a dinner meeting
with Netanyahu that has been described as a “follow-up” meeting and is expected
to concentrate on the Palestinian issue.
will be the tenth meeting between Obama and Netanyahu since they were sworn into
office in 2009. They met twice before that as candidates. Obama has met
one-on-one with Netanyahu more than with any other world leader, but never for
as long as he will during the current visit.
Find live Twitter updates from our reporters covering the Obama visit, here: