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Obama Visits Israel for First Time as President

Michael Johnson

U.S. President Barack Obama landed Wednesday at Ben-Gurion airport for a 50 hour visit to Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres, along with around 1,000 other people, greeted the President as he stepped off Air Force One. Obama also plans to visit King Abdullah II in Jordan after meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

While it remains unclear why Obama chose the beginning of his second term to visit Israel, a number of pressing issues remain on the agenda. The President reiterated Israel had a right to defend itself and did not rule out a military strike against Iran over its nuclear program. Obama repeated his stance that the use of chemical weapons in Syria calling it a “game-changer” and stated Asad must be held accountable. During a joint press conference, Peres decried how chemical weapons could fall into the hands of terrorists. Obama also visited an Iron Dome battery and promised to seek additional funding for the system capable of shooting down Hamas missiles.

U.S. President Barack Obama sits next to Israeli President Shimon Peres during an official welcoming ceremony at Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv on March 20, 2013. (Photo: Reuters)

At a meeting in the West Bank, Obama reassured Abbas he remained committed to an “independent, viable and contiguous” Palestinian state. “The core issue right now is how do we get sovereignty for the Palestinian people and security for Israeli people,” he explained after a two hour closed door meeting with the PA President. The U.S. President also denounced new Israeli settlements but didn’t deliver any new proposals on how to revive peace talks or narrow the differences between Israel and the Palestinians.

Despite Obama’s anti-settlement position towards the Israel and the financial assistance the U.S. provides the PA, many Palestinians still protested his visit. Last month the Obama administration unfroze hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the PA. They are over two billion dollars in debt and unable to pay the salaries of 150,000 civil servicemen.

Despite their past differences, Obama and Netanyahu appeared to have buried the proverbial hatchet. Yet most important will be any understandings they reached in private consultations.