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Faster, clearer results might be expected in Asia but Obama has given the Israeli-Palestinian challenge pride of place. The US president failed to move forward on this in his first four years in office. Landing in Israel on Wednesday it looked like he was ready to try again, but without ultimatums or quantified promises.
He said: “As I begin my second term as President, Israel is the first stop on my first foreign trip. This is no accident. Across this region, the winds of change bring both promise and peril. So, I see this visit as an opportunity to reaffirm the unbreakable bond between our nations, to restate America’s unwavering commitment to Israel’s security and to speak directly to the people of Israel and to your neighbours.”
Almost straight off the Air Force One plane at Ben Gurion Airport, Obama was shown a sample of the anti-missile missile system Israel has developed – Iron Dome – with a great deal of US funding help. The motto of the much-vaunted attack deterrent, built by Rafael Advanced Defence Systems, is ‘Smart and To the Point’.
Obama swiftly made light of past tensions with host Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyah.
Obama: “Where do you want to start?”
Guide: “We are following the red line, sir.”
Obama: “The red line? [indicating a grinning Netanyahu] Okay, he’s always talking to me about red lines.”
An Arab Israeli heckler in Jerusalem during Obama’s speech to Israeli university students questioned how genuine the guest’s intentions were, but the speaker got a standing ovation.
“Israelis must recognise that continued settlement activity is counterproductive to the cause of peace, and that an independent Palestine must be viable – with real borders that have to be drawn.”
Obama over-flew checkpoints and concrete to visit Ramallah, in the West Bank. He did not demand that Jewish settlement-building here be halted, as his Palestinian Authority host President Mahmoud Abbas says must precede any resumption of talks for peace solutions.
“The core issue right now is how do we get sovereignty for the Palestinian people and how do we assure security for the Israeli people. That’s not to say settlements aren’t important; it is to say that if we solve those two problems the settlement problem will be solved.”
Many Palestinians were disappointed with what they saw as Obama’s commitment evasiveness.