President Barack Obama arrived in Israel today for the first overseas trip in his second term.
He was greeted by Israeli President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, along with nearly every member of his new government, Israel’s Chief Rabbis, Christian and Muslim religious leaders, IDF Chief of Staff Gen. Benny Gantz, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and several other officials. “United States is proud to stand with you as your strongest ally and your greatest friend” Pres. Obama said upon arrival, according to CNN.
According to Ma’ariv, Pres. Obama traveled from the airport to an “Iron Dome” battery, Israel’s new anti-rocket defensive system, while escorted by Pres. Peres and Prime Minister Netanyahu. He then traveled to Jerusalem to the Presidential Residence, where he was greeted by groups of school children, signed the famous Visitor’s Book and planted a magnolia tree in the presidential garden.
The magnolia was the source of a minor diplomatic incident, as the Israeli Ministry of Agriculture ordered that it be removed and sent to a lab for tests.
Another minor snafu occurred on the way to Jerusalem when the presidential limo broke down. “We experienced mechanical trouble with one of the cars” said Edwin Donovan, a spokesman for the United State Secret Service. According to CNN, the reason for the malfunction, though unconfirmed by Donovan, was that its driver refueled it using gasoline and not diesel fuel.
Pres. Obama also had a number of meetings with Prime Minister Netanyahu, both in private and with additional government officials. In a press conference held tonight, Pres. Obama reaffirmed the US’ commitment to Israel’s security, stating that “the security of Israel is non-negotiable”. He also addressed the situation in Syria and the peace process with the Palestinians.
In preparation for Pres. Obama’s visit, the City of Jerusalem has hung 1,000 American, Israeli and Municipal flags throughout the city, the Old City’s walls will be illuminated with decorative lighting and several major streets have been closed off as part of the security arrangements, according to Ha’aretz.
However, in return for the inconvenience, Jerusalem residents are getting a much cleaner city, with Mayor Barkat jokingly saying, in an interview to Israel’s Channel 2news, that its all part of “Passover cleaning”. The King David Hotel, where Pres. Obama and his party will be staying, has also cleaned for the Passover holiday, and will not be serving any leavened bread or grain-based alcoholic beverages (which, unfortunately, includes beer).
Tomorrow, Pres. Obama is scheduled to make a speech before Israeli students, rather than before the Knesset, as part of his desire to reach out to the Israeli public. He is also scheduled to visit the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah. On Friday he will visit Yad Va-Shem, Israel’s national Holocaust museum and then travel to Bethlehem, before departing for Jordan.