LIVE BLOG: Barack Obama visits Israel: Day one
U.S. President lands in Israel for the first time since elected in 2008; Palestinians erect camp in E-1 in the West Bank to protest Obama's arrival; Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says need for U.S.-Israel alliance 'greater than ever'; Obama is now in Jerusalem.
U.S. President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Wednesday evening in Jerusalem for the first talks of their kind in Israel.
During the meeting, Obama vowed unwavering U.S. support for Israel's security and said "America's comittment to Israel is stronger than ever before." He also said that there was "not a lot of daylight" between the two countries' assessments on Iran, saying that the U.S. would not allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons and would consult with Israel on its efforts, declaring again that "all options were on the table."
Netanyahu echoed Obama's concern on Iran and said that the Islamic Republic was near the "red line" he had set at the United Nations. He also said that Iran could develop nuclear weapons in the next year if it opted to do so.
The Israeli prime minister also said that his new government was committed to making peace with the Palestinians and to the the reality of "two states for two peoples."
Obama landed in Israel on Wednesday afternoon, and was greeted by Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres, and all of the ministers of Israel's recently formed government.
Obama will have a packed schedule during his three day visit, which will include meetings with Palestinian officials in Ramallah.
9:12 P.M: Press conference ends.
9:08 P.M. Netanyahu, echoing Obama, say it would take Iran about a year to make a nuclear weapon if it opts to do so, says Iran getting closer to the "red line" he described at the United Nations.
"If Iran decides to go for a nuclear weapon ... then it will only take them about a year," Netanyahu says, adding: "Iran gets to an immunity zone when they get through the enrichment process in our view."
"Iran right now is enriching uranium. Whatever time is left, there is not a lot of time. [Israel and the U.S] do have a common assessment on the schedules, on intelligence; we don't have any argument about it."
9:06 P.M When asked about his popularity in Israel, which is considered quite low, Obama answers with a quip, calls the reporter who asked "incorrigible", conceded that he did make peace to the Middle East during his first term, and said "I hope I am a better president now than when I came into office... [The Israeli-Palestinian conflict] is a really hard problem, it has been lingering for over 6 decades; There are differences you can’t just smooth out. It takes a confluence of both good diplomatic work and also timing and serendipity. I actually believe that Israel’s security will be enhanced with a resolution to this issue. The entire region will be healthier with a resolution to this issue. Sometimes it's easier to avoid the question because it’s hard.
8:59 P.M Obama: We consider Israel's security extremelly important to us. Iran is a shared concer. I want to make sure the Israeli public understands my thinking on this problem.
8:50 P.M. "There is not a lot of daylight between our countries’ assessments about where Iran is right now," says Obama. "Each country has to make its own decisions when it comes to the awesome decision to engage in any kind of military action... And Israel is differently situated than the United States.
Obama says he is deeply skeptical of any claim that Chemical weapons where used by Syrian rebels.
8:47 P.M. Over the last year, year and a half, two years, we haven't gone forward. We haven't seen the kind of progress that we would like to see. There are some good news, the Palestinian Authority has worked effectively, in cooperation with the international community to do its part in maintaining security. The truth of the matter is that trying to bring this to some sort of clear settlement, a solution that would allow Israelis to feel as if they broked out of the current isolation in this region.
There is time to resolve this issue diplomatically. The question is, whether the Iranians see that opportunity. It will be in everybody’s interests if this gets resolved diplomatically.
The most permanent solution to the Iranian situation is ultimately their decision that they will not pursue nuclear weapons. It will allow them to break out of the isolation. But I don't know whether they will be willing to take that step.
Netanyahu says "absolutely convinced" Obama determined to prevent nuclear armed Iran.
8:44 P.M. Obama quotes from the writing of Yoni Netanyahu, deceased brother of Benjamin Netanyahu.
8:42 P.M. Obama on Iran: We agreed a nuclear armed Iran would be a threat to the region, a threat to the world, and potentially an existential threat to Israel.
Our policy is to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. We prefer to [do this] diplomatically. The United States will continue to consult closely with Israel our next steps, and I will repeat, all options are on the table. We will do whatever is necessary to stop Iran from getting the world’s worst weapons.
8:39 P.M. Obama: Israel's security is not negotiable. America's comittment to Israel is stronger than ever before, and the alliance between our nations has never been stronger.
My job is first and foremost to keep the Ameriocan people safe. Bibi, your first task is to keep the people of Israel safe.
As part of our long-term commitment to Israel's security, there will be be no interruption in funding for the Iron Dome system, that has saved so many lives.
A central element of a lasting peace must be a strong and secure Jewish state alongside a solid Palestinian state.
Israel has a profound interest in a strong and effective Palestinian Authority.
Assad government will be held accountable for any use or transfer of chemical weapons.
8:38 P.M. Obama takes the stage, expresses 'a special thanks to Sara and to your two sons… very handsome men, who clearly got their looks from their mother.'
8:32 P.M. Netanyahu to Obama: your visit has given us a way to try to advance peace between ourself and the Palestinians.
The new Israeli government remains "fully committed to the peace process and a solution of two states for two peoples."
8:31 P.M. Press conference commences: Netanyahu welcomes Obama, say 'It is a profound honor to host you, the leader of the free world, at this historic time in our ancient capital. Welcome to Israel and welcome to Jerusalem.'
8:25 P.M. With roads all around the King David Hotel closed and police everywhere, locals are staying home. It's a ghost town here. Cinemateque practically empty. Restaurants quiet. Need a last minute table at usually-booked-solid Mahane Yehuda restaurant for 10 people? No problem. (Danna Harman)
8:15 P.M. Press conference delayed by 20 minutes. (Chemi Shalev)
8:05 P.M. Joint Obama-Netanyahu press conference to begin shortly, at the Prime Minister's residence in Jerusalem.
8:00 P.M. Jerusalem is swarming with foreign press. The Israel based correspondents are over at the makeshift Government Press Office (GPO)'s media center at the Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem, watching the TV monitors, snacking and waiting for the press conference over at Prime Minister's to begin. The hundred plus traveling press, who arrived yesterday, are doing much the same over at a White House Press Room set up in the Inbal hotel nearby. Snacks at Inbal better. (Danna Harman)
7:32 P.M. Obama's entry to Peres' visitor's book is posted on Netanyahu's Facebook wall: "It is a great honor to reaffirm the extraordinary bonds between our two countries. By every measure, from security to our economy, our cooperation has never been greater and this in part is because of the strong commitment of Prime Minister Netanyahu. May our bonds continue to grow. On behalf of our people and prosperity for all people."
6:30 P.M. Netanyahu invited only ministers Yuval Steinitz, Tzipi Livni, and Moshe Ya'alon to his state dinner with Obama. The reason for not inviting Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett, according to a source close to the PM, is that the two are "not involved in foreign affairs - only domestic matters."
6:30 P.M. Obama and Netanyahu now meeting in the PM's residence at Jerusalem.
5:40 P.M. President's Residence Spokeswoman, Ayelet Frish says Peres found his meeting with U.S. President Obama "very satisfying."
Frish says the presidents' meeting was 'intimate one,' with the only additional U.S. representatives present being Secretary of State John Kerry and National Security Adviser Tom Donilon. Frish adds that the meeting dealt with "the most serious of issues, with the question of a nuclear Iran foremost."
"There exists the feeling that it is possible to commence negotiations with the Palestinians, and to further efforts on that front- which would be in the best interests of Israel," says Frish.
5:47 P.M. Obama and Netanyahu convene for their first meeting at Netanyahu's residence.
5:40 P.M. Obama and Kerry tour Netanyahu's residence, accompanied by Netanyahu's wife Sara and their sons.
5:30 P.M. Obama quotes Talmud in a carrot tree story about Honi the Miracle worker, known in English as Honi the Circle Drawer (Chemi Shalev)
5:23 P.M. Obama to Peres: Thank you, President Peres, for your warm welcome, it is wonderful to be here. I have once again succumbed to your charms. It is wonderful to be back. I am especially thankful for the time you allowed me to share with the Israeli boys and girls. They want to be safe, free from rockets; they want a world where science and technology are used for peace, for learning. As Michelle, I have such warm memories from your visit to the White House in May.
5:21 P.M. Peres to Obama: We share a common vision; we mustn't let the skeptics win. We agree that the goal is a two-state solution. We consider Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian president] as our partner in the effort to stop terror and bring peace. Hamas remains a terror organization that targets innocent people. In the north, Hezbollah targets innocent people across the world. Hezbollah is destroying Lebanon and sponsoring massacres in Syria. We cannot allow chemical weapons to fall in terrorist's hands. There is an attempt to bring spring; it is an Arab initiative, which might bring peace. If realized, it will bring a better tomorrow. There is a division between skeptics and those who bring peace. Your voice is of optimism.
Peres calls Obama a true friend and says he has faith that the U.S. president's dream can be achieved, and that it can change the face of the Middle East. He says the two agree that Iran is the greatest threat, and that Israel trusts the U.S. policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon - believing it is in Obama's interest to do so without force and with clear declarations.
5:04 P.M. Obama and Peres to make joint statement shortly.
4:52 P.M. Obama calls Peres “Champion on behalf of the Israeli people, champion on behalf of peace”
4:40 P.M. Obama and Peres now meeting in Israeli president's office.
4:10 P.M. Obama and Peres walk through presidential garden, Obama with spade in hand, and plant the Magnolia tree brought from the White House as a gift.
4.00 P.M. Obama is greeted by Peres at his Jerusalem residence.
3.56 P.M. Obama motorcade driving through streets of Jerusalem to Obama's residence.
3.37 P.M. President Peres is planning a "civic reception" for Obama, due to start at 4 P.M. Obama will surprise Peres with a magnolia tree from the White House garden at the event. That was flown in especially, and will be planted in the garden of the president's Jerusalem resident in the presence of both. Children representing different sectors of Israeli society will greet Obama, including a child resident of the Gaza envelope area, who will thank the president for the U.S. investment in the Iron Dome missile defense system. Later there will be a political meeting with Peres, Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, and security advisor Tom Donilon. Peres aims to supports the U.S. position on the Iranian issue in the most clear-cut way, and tell him that the U.S. and Israel see eye to eye on Iran. He intends to tell Obama, "There is a partner on the Palestinian side. Mahmoud Abbas is fighting terror." Peres will warn about Syria's chemical weapons caches and demand U.S. cooperation in dealing with the issue. (Jonathan Lis)
3:30 P.M. For the full text of Obamas' arrival speech at Ben Gurion International Airport, click here.
3:15 P.M. For the full text of Peres' welcome speech to Obama at Ben Gurion International Airport, click here.
3:05 P.M. For the full text of Netanyahu's welcome speech to Obama at Ben Gurion International Airport, click here.
2:40 P.M. Haaretz analyst in New York Chemi Shalev points out that the American media is also providing extensive coverage of Obama's visit to Israel. American commentators believe that the use of chemical weapons on Syria will be high up on the agenda during Obama's meetings.
2:14 P.M. Obama's motorcade reaches the King David Hotel.
2:12 P.M. On his first day as a civilian, former Defense Minister Ehud Barak wrote an op-ed about Obama's visit in the Wall Street Journal. In the article, Barak writes: President Obama's visit to Israel comes at a decisive juncture for the Middle East and offers the opportunity for new strategic thinking. Over the past two years, a geopolitical earthquake has shattered a generations-old regional order. What is replacing that order are unstable, transformational regimes or, even worse, failed states.
2:04 P.M. Obama's motorcade en route to King David Hotel in Jerusalem.
1:50 P.M. Marine One lands in Jerusalem.
1:46 P.M. Dozens of Palestinian popular resistance activists have erected a new outpost in the E-1 corridor just outside of Jerusalem.
Abdallah Abu Rahma, an activist involved in the effort, told Haaretz that the act was timed with U.S. President Obama's visit to Israel, and is aimed at sending a message to Obama as well as bringing world attention to the Palestinian issue. (Jack Khoury)
1:40 P.M. Haaretz reporter traveling to Jerusalem by bus from Haifa reports Route 1 completely empty.
1:25 P.M. Obama boards Marine One, and takes off for Jerusalem.
1:20 P.M. Obama meets with Iron Dome soldiers. Obama tells Iron Dome crew: All of you are doing an outstanding job. We're very proud of you. (Chemi Shalev)
1:09 P.M. Obama en route to visit Iron Dome missile defense system battery.
12:57 P.M. Obama starts speech, says in Hebrew, "its good to be in Israel again." Asks why does the U.S. stand so strongly, firmly, with the state of Israel? "We stand together because we share a common story, patriots determined to be free people in our lives."
"In an unstable and uncertain Middle East, the need for our alliance is greater than ever, it is the key to thwarting dangers to advancing peace, the key to achieve a stable and secure peace that the people of Israel yearn for all of our neighbors and all of our hearts."
"Peace must come to the homeland, we will never lose sight of the vision of an Israel at peace with its neighbor. Obama affirms support for Israel because it makes both nations stronger, more prosperous and makes the world a better place: "It is in our fundamental national security interest to stand with Israel." He adds that this is the reason the "U.S. was the very first nation to recognize the State of Israel 65 years ago."
12:54 P.M. Netanyahu starts address. Thanks Obama for,"for standing by Israel at this time of historic change" in the Mideast. Says he looks forward to working with him over the next four years.
"Thank you for unequivocally affirming Israel's sovereign right to defend itself and enhancing Israel's ability to exercise that right."
"In an unstable and uncertain Middle East, the need for our alliance is greater than ever, it is the key to thwarting dangers to advancing piece, the key to achieve a stable and secure peace that the people of Israel yearn for all of our neighbors and all of our hearts."
12:48 P.M. Peres welcomes Obama, says we "welcome you with open arms." "Thank you Mr. President, thank you America, thank you for what you are, thank you for what you do." "Israeli spirit is inspired by American exceptionalism." Adds, "a world without America would be a darker world. A world without your friendship would invite aggression against Israel. Mr. President, your story reflects the history of the world as it is, your vision reflects the future as it should be." Says support for Israel is unshakeable, Obama is "a historic friend of Israel."
12: 48 PM: Housing minister Ariel tells Obama: Free Pollard Obama: good to meet you (Chemi Shalev)
12:46 P.M. Obama, meeting Yair Lapid, talks about the hard work ahead says: My wife always warns me "be careful what you wish for." (Chemi Shalev)
12:44 P.M. Obama overheard telling Netanyahu: good to get away from Congress (Chemi Shalev)
12:37 P.M. The U.S. president greets Israel's chief rabbis, along with other top Israeli officials on the red carpet.
12:31 P.M. Obama on landing: Great to see you, great to be here.
12:30 P.M. President Obama steps out of Air Force One, with Netanyahu and Peres on the ground to greet him. He greets them with a hug.
12:13 P.M. U.S. President Barack Obama lands at Ben-Gurion Airport.
12:09 P.M. Israeli airspace has been closed as Air Force One is expected to land at 12:30 P.M.
11:58 A.M. Palestinian organizations, primarily youth organizations, are organizing a demonstration to be held in Ramallah Thursday in protest of Obama's visit. "Obama is coming to strengthen Israel, which means continued occupation and settlement," said one of the organizers, Hazem Abu Hilal.
10:56 P.M. On the eve of Obama's visit, Netanyahu received a missive from Russian President Vladimir Putin, congratulating him on forming a government, and inviting him to visit Moscow.
10:44 A.M. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met Tuesday night at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's special envoy Isaac Molcho. According to a senior Israeli official, the meeting focused on efforts to renew peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. This is the second meeting between Kerry and Molcho since he took office at the State Department a few weeks ago. Their previous meeting was three weeks ago in Washington. Kerry will accompany Obama on his visit to Israel and fly with him to Jordan on Friday. However, on Saturday, 24 hours later, Kerry will return to Jerusalem for a meeting with Netanyahu that will deal almost entirely with the Palestinian issue. (Barak Ravid)
10:10 A.M. Media frenzy at Ben Gurion airport. Most of the people there are security and press. (Barak Ravid)
10:05 A.M. The closures planned for intercity highways on Wednesday are as follows:
Route 1 will be closed to vehicular traffic from Ben Gurion International Airport in the direction of Jerusalem from 1:15 PM for about an hour. During the morning hours traffic jams are expected from Jerusalem in the direction of Ben Gurion.
The following streets in Jerusalem are to be closed to traffic on Wednesday:
Admoni, David Hamelekh, Hamekhes Square, Agron, Paris Square, Ramban, Rupin, Shmuel Weiss, Museum Row, Kaplan (between Rothschild and Rupin), Israel Museum parking lot, Arlozorov, Hanassi, Wingate Square, Smolenskin, Keren Hayesod, Plumer Square, Balfour, Ha'Ari, Emile Botta.
Hamelekh David Street will be closed to traffic from Hamekhes Junction Mamilla shopping mall up to Plumer junction from Wednesday morning until Friday noon. No parking will be allowed on the artery.
On Wednesday, the following streets will be closed to traffic:
From 1:00 PM to 2:10 PM: Museum Row, Yosef Weiss, Rupin, Ramban, Agron, Hamelekh David.
From 2:50 PM to 4:00 PM: Hamelekh David, Plumer, Jabotinsky, Hanassi.
From 4:20 PM to 8:10 PM: Hanassi, Balfour, from 7:10 PM: Smolenskin, Keren Hayesod, Balfour, Hamelekh David.
9:54 A.M. Newly appointed Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon spoke to his American counterpart Chuck Hagel. They congratulated one another over their new positions, and Hagel told Ya'alon that he will be visiting Israel next month. (Barak Ravid)
9:42 A.M. Obama is schedule to land at 12:25 P.M., and will be greeted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres. Following a short ceremony, Obama will be shown an Iron Dome missile defense battery.
9:11 A.M. Research by TheMarker has found that since Israel was formed in 1948, the United States has provided $233.7 billion in aid, after adjusting for inflation.
8:00 A.M. Haaretz commentators analyze the implications of President Obama's visit to the Israel.
Editor-in-Chief Aluf Benn writes that as Obama visits, it is time for Israel to start facing outward again, after months of election campaiging and the last few weeks of coalitino squabbling.
Ari Shavit says that Obama's visit is an opportunity for the U.S. president to continue winning back Israelis' hearts. He's lost standing with Israelis in the past over his Cairo speech, and other events, but his recent support and funding of the Iron Dome have begun to turn the tides, writes Shavit.
7:30 A.M. Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren says Israel has an ongoing and 'intimate' dialogue with U.S. leaders on the Iranian issue.