Robert Gates on Friday became the first US Defense Secretary to visit the West Bank, meeting Palestinian leaders keenly aware of every little nod to their hopes of achieving statehood.
Children in Ramallah stared as the long motorcade of US cars wound through the streets of the city north of Jerusalem.
With US diplomacy fully stretched over revolts in the Arab world and the air war with Libya, Gates was looking to revive stalled peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, before another war fills the vacuum they have left for six months.
"It is a great pleasure for me to welcome Secretary Gates to Palestine," Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said. "This is a time of great challenge throughout the region. But also a time of opportunity, requiring a redoubling of the effort aimed at pursuing the cause of peace, justice and security.
"I look forward to our talks ... obviously the political developments around the region, but also the prospects for a two-state solution," he said.