Obama lands at Ben-Gurion for historic Israel visit

US president lands in Israel on Air Force One; 1,000 people await him at airport; Israeli and US officials say 50-hour visit to set tone of the 2 leaders' relationship over next 4 years.

Obama waves as he steps aboard Air Force One 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Obama waves as he steps aboard Air Force One 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
US President Barack Obama landed in Israel at Ben-Gurion Airport on Wednesday to a large welcoming group that included members of all branches of Israel's security forces, as well as dignitaries, diplomats and reporters from all over the world.
Video streaming by Ustream
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 to Israel
Some 1,000 people in total were at the airport to greet Obama on his first visit to Israel as president, including Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres, who greeted him as he stepped off of Air force One.
As he walked down the red carpet from Air Force One, Obama was also greeted by Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar and Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger. He soon after shook hands with the ministers of Israel's newly sworn-in government, one-by-one.
The president was to 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.
Obama 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.
Netanyahu 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 years.
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.
This 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: