Israel awaits the arrival of US President Barack Obama

Senior Israeli and US officials say the long-awaited 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 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 boarded Air Force One on Tuesday night and departed for Israel.
Obama and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu are expected to publicly paper over any differences on Iran during the American leader’s visit that begins Wednesday, with Netanyahu to express appreciation for the president’s repeated comment that Israel has the right to defend itself by itself against any threat.
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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.
Obama is scheduled to arrive Wednesday just after noon, making the Jewish state the first overseas destination of his second term and giving him the opportunity to speak directly to the Israeli people.
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.
During the visit Obama will travel the short distance from Jerusalem to Ramallah to spend some five-and-a half hours on Thursday with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
On Friday he will return to the PA for a short stop at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, before leaving on a one-day visit to Jordan.
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.
Netanyahu, along with President Shimon Peres and the newly sworn in cabinet, will greet Obama at Ben-Gurion airport at 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday.
He will then helicopter to Jerusalem for a reception at the President’s Residence.
This will be followed by a marathon meeting with Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s Residence that will be divided into three parts: an initial twoand- a-half hour meeting, followed by a 20-minute press conference, and then a dinner. The Prime Minister’s Office would not say which of the new cabinet ministers would attend that dinner.
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.
Netanyahu will accompany Obama on his tour of the Dead Sea Scrolls and an exhibition on Israeli technological developments at the Israel Museum in the capital on Thursday morning.
Obama will then helicopter to Ramallah, and return for a 5 p.m.
speech to students at the Jerusalem International Convention Center.
Netanyahu will see him again at the state dinner that night hosted by Peres, where Obama will be given the Presidential Medal of Distinction.
The next morning he will lay a wreath at the graves of Theodor Herzl and Yitzhak Rabin on Mount Herzl, and go to Yad Vashem. He will then have yet another meeting with Netanyahu, this one scheduled for some 90 minutes, before heading for the Church of the Nativity.
He is scheduled to leave Israel at 3 p.m. Friday afternoon.
While much has been said about Obama’s desire to use the trip to better connect to the Israeli public, Netanyahu’s spokesman Mark Regev said at a press briefing that Israel would do everything possible to express its appreciation to Obama and the US for their “steadfast support and friendship.”
Regev said the three main issues on the agenda were Iran, Syria and the diplomatic process with the Palestinians.
Regarding Iran, he reiterated Netanyahu’s oft-stated position that Israel feels the current political and economic pressure will work only if it is “coupled with military pressure” and an Iranian realization that military action will be taken if necessary to keep it from obtaining nuclear weapons.
Regarding Syria, Regev said Israel was closely coordinated with the US on this matter. He said there was a joint concern that as Syria fragmented, the humanitarian crisis there could turn into a strategic crisis as chemical weapons or advanced weapons systems fall either into the hands of Hezbollah, which was supporting President Bashar Assad, or radical Sunni Islamic forces like al-Qaida, who were among those fighting against him.
On the Palestinian issue, Regev indicated that Netanyahu’s message to Obama would be a willingness to move forward toward a “historic compromise to end the conflict” as long as it was done in a “step-by-step, measured and verifiable manner.” But, he stressed, compromise needed to be a “two-way street.”
When asked about a possible settlement freeze, Regev said this did not help in the past, but Israel was ready for “mutual, reciprocal confidence building measures to bolster the process and move forward."
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