Obama says US-Israel alliance ‘eternal, forever’ 21`Mar13 March 21, 2013

Ma’an News Agency    -    20 March 2013

208887_345x230TEL AVIV, Israel (Ma’an) — US President Barack Obama said at the start of his first official visit to Israel on Wednesday that US commitment to its security was rock solid.

“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 neighbors,” Obama said at a welcoming ceremony.

“I am confident in declaring that our alliance is eternal, is forever,” he added.

Obama arrived aboard Air Force One at Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport shortly after noon on Wednesday, starting a three-day trip to the region.

Making his first official visit as president, Obama hopes to reset his often fraught relations with both the Israelis and Palestinians in a carefully choreographed stay that is high on symbolism but low on expectations.

Obama was met at Tel Aviv airport by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli President Shimon Peres after Air Force One stopped next to a huge red carpet laid out down the tarmac.

Obama will hold lengthy talks with Netanyahu later in the day, with the two set to hold a news conference at 8:10 p.m.

“Thank you for standing by Israel at this time of historic change in the Middle East,” said Netanyahu, whose relationship with Obama has often been testy.

“Thank you for unequivocally affirming Israel’s sovereign right to defend itself by itself against any threat,” the right-wing Israeli leader said before viewing with Obama an Iron Dome anti-missile battery that was brought to the airport for the president to see. The system is partially US-funded.

At the ceremony, Obama spoke of his hopes for peace – without directly mentioning Palestinians. US officials said he was not bringing any peace initiative with him.

“We stand together because peace must come to the Holy Land,” Obama said. “Even as we are clear eyed about the difficulties, we will never lose sight of the vision of an Israel at peace with its neighbors.”

But Palestinian analysts viewed the visit as unlikely to challenge the status quo.

“Palestinian expectations for Obama’s visit could not be lower,” said Diana Buttu, a former PLO spokeswoman and legal adviser to Abbas.

“He won’t meet Palestinian hunger strikers, Palestinians whose lands have been stolen for Israeli settlements, or Palestinian nonviolent activists who risk their lives to resist Israel’s more than 45-year-old military occupation and colonization project,” she said.

Fatah leader Hatem Abdul Qader agreed, saying that “we can see from the interviews that he is completely with Israel, and the Palestinians who are optimistic are few.

“Most are pessimistic because they are sure this visit won’t bring good results,” he told Ma’an. “This visit is ‘exploratory’, as if the Palestinian suffering for dozens of years is not enough.”

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