[3:45 p.m. EDT]: President Obama was greeted at the airport by a gaggle of young kids singing a mashup of songs from the musical “Annie.”
[3:35 p.m. EDT]: Netanyahu’s official twitter feed posted this picture of the official dinner on Instagram. Secretary of State John Kerry and Obama are clearly visible on the left, across from Netanyahu.
[3:30 p.m. EDT]: #ObamaLimoNames now in the top ten trending topics on Twitter in the U.S.
[3:15 p.m. EDT] After a fair amount of joshing around and jokes about where their respective children got their good looks (from their mothers, obviously), Obama and Netanyahu spent most of their press conference speaking about Iran’s developing nuclear capabilities and the unacceptability thereof. On the peace process, Obama said, “The Palestinians need to feel that they too are masters of their own fate,” but added that he would speak more on the peace process in his addresses tomorrow. He also reiterated the U.S.’s commitment to Israel’s security. On Syria, Obama said he was “deeply skeptical” about accusations that a recent chemical weapons attack had come from the opposition, and both leaders reiterated that such a provocation would not go unchecked by the West.
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[2:32 p.m. EDT] Obama-Netanyahu press conference has begun.
[2:30 p.m. EDT] YNet News in Israel is reporting that the Agriculture Ministry has ordered Obama’s magnolia tree, which he planted with President Peres earlier today, dug up. Apparently the tree, which was brought in from the U.S., Times of Israel said, wasn’t properly checked.
[2:20 p.m. EDT] Private meeting between Obama and Netanyahu has concluded, press conference to begin in about 10 minutes.
[2 p.m. EDT] Bloomberg reports the reason the presidential chariot broke down earlier was that its gas tank was filled with diesel, rather than regular gasoline. This is possibly due to the fact that Americans are unaccustomed to diesel engines, and the limo is an American Cadillac flown in especially for the president. Only about 3 percent of cars sold in the U.S. are diesel cars, according to the National Biodiesel Board. In Europe, that number is 50 percent.
[1:45 p.m. EDT] Obama’s signature in Netanyahu’s guest book:
[1:20 p.m. EDT] Obama’s motorcade caused a slight faux pas when it broke down on its way to meet with Shimon Peres. His is not the first limo to suffer a malfunction in a foreign country: President Bush’s motorcade also got stuck in Rome due to an engine failure in 2007. Watch the video here.
[12:30 a.m. EDT] Obama met with newly sworn-in ministers of the new coalition government. He told Justice Minister Tzipi Livni “So glad we’ll be working together.” Environment Minister Amir Peretz says he hopes Obama’s visit “will give a start-up” to peace efforts with the Palestinians. Both are member of HaTnua, the most liberal wing of the coalition.
[12:15 p.m. EDT] Four Israeli Twitter feeds (in English) that are covering the presidential visit:
[12:07 p.m. EDT] Many Palestinians may not be as overjoyed about President Barack Obama’s arrival in the Middle East today as the Palestinian rappers in a video prepared by the American Consulate General in Israel suggests.
“We welcome you to Palestine,” the rappers say, in a video prepared for YouTube as Obama prepares for a stop in Ramallah during his three-day tour through Israel, the West Bank and Jordan.
“Our hands are reaching for peace,” they rap.
[11:35 a.m. EDT] Netanyahu just greeted Obama at his official residence in Jerusalem, the prime minister’s official Twitter feed announced.
[11:30 a.m. EDT] Presidents Peres and Obama just issued a joint statement following a private meeting at Peres’ residence in Jerusalem. Peres told 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. … There is a division between skeptics and those who bring peace. Your voice is of optimism.”
Obama called Peres a “champion on behalf of the Israeli people, a champion on behalf of peace,” and thanked him for his kind words. He also spoke about “the perils of a nuclear-armed Iran,” and Peres told Obama, “We trust you on Iran.”
President Peres, Prime Minister Netanyahu, and most of all, to the people of Israel, thank you for this incredibly warm welcome. This is my third visit to Israel so let me just say tov lihiyot shuv ba’aretz [translation: It’s good to be back in the land of Israel].
I’m so honored to be here as you prepare to celebrate the 65th anniversary of a free and independent State of Israel. Yet I know that in stepping foot on this land, I walk with you on the historic homeland of the Jewish people.
More than 3,000 years ago, the Jewish people lived here, tended the land here, prayed to God here. And after centuries of exile and persecution, unparalleled in the history of man, the founding of the Jewish State of Israel was a rebirth, a redemption unlike any in history.
Today, the sons of Abraham and the daughters of Sarah are fulfilling the dream of the ages — to be “masters of their own fate” in “their own sovereign state.” And just as we have for these past 65 years, the United States is proud to stand with you as your strongest ally and your greatest friend.
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 bonds 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.
I want to begin right now, by answering a question that is sometimes asked about our relationship — why? Why does the United States stand so strongly, so firmly with the State of Israel? And the answer is simple. We stand together because we share a common story — patriots determined “to be a free people in our land,” pioneers who forged a nation, heroes who sacrificed to preserve our freedom, and immigrants from every corner of the world who renew constantly our diverse societies.
We stand together because we are democracies. For as noisy and messy as it may be, we know that democracy is the greatest form of government ever devised by man.
We stand together because it makes us more prosperous. Our trade and investment create jobs for both our peoples. Our partnerships in science and medicine and health bring us closer to new cures, harness new energy and have helped transform us into high-tech hubs of our global economy.
We stand together because we share a commitment to helping our fellow human beings around the world. When the earth shakes and the floods come, our doctors and rescuers reach out to help. When people are suffering, from Africa to Asia, we partner to fight disease and overcome hunger.
And we stand together because peace must come to the Holy Land. For even as we are clear-eyed about the difficulty, we will never lose sight of the vision of an Israel at peace with its neighbors.
So as I begin this visit, let me say as clearly as I can –the United States of America stands with the State of Israel because it is in our fundamental national security interest to stand with Israel. It makes us both stronger. It makes us both more prosperous. And it makes the world a better place.
That’s why the United States was the very first nation to recognize the State of Israel 65 years ago. That’s why the Star of David and the Stars and Stripes fly together today. And that is why I’m confident in declaring that our alliance is eternal, it is forever – lanetzach.
Thank you very much.
[9:55 a.m. EDT] -- President Barack Obama is scheduled to start a reception with President Shimon Peres at the president's Jerusalem residence at 4 p.m. local time, or 10 a.m. on the U.S. East Coast. Obama will present Peres with a magnolia tree from the White House garden. Then the two leaders, as well as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Tom Donilon, U.S. national security advisor, are scheduled to meet.
[9:46 a.m. EDT] -- Palestinian activists are demonstrating peacefully at a corridor between Jerusalem and the West Bank, Haaretz reports. Known as E1, the corridor is a 12-kilometer space within the municipal boundary of Maale Adumim, an Israeli settlement. The activists have been camped out there since January.
[9:23 a.m. EDT] -- The Israeli government released the full text of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's remarks upon U.S. President Barack Obama's arrival. From Haaretz:
“President Obama, This is an historic moment. You have chosen to come to Israel as the first foreign visit of your second term, you the leader of the United States, the world’s greatest democracy, have chosen to come to our somewhat smaller but no less vibrant democracy in the heart of the Middle East, the one and only Jewish state of Israel. On behalf of the government and the people of Israel, I come here today with a simple message for you and the American people: Thank you. Thank you for standing by Israel at this time of historic change in the Middle East. Thank you for unequivocally affirming Israel’s sovereign right to defend itself by itself against any threat. Thank you for enhancing Israel’s’ ability to exercise that right through generous military assistance, revolutionary missile defense programs, and unprecedented security and intelligence cooperation. Thank you, Mr. President, for upholding the Jewish people’s right to a Jewish state in our historic homeland, and for boldly defending that right at the United Nations. And thank you for strengthening the unbreakable alliance between our two nations during your Presidency.
“In an unstable and uncertain Middle East, the need for our alliance is greater than ever. It is the key to thwarting dangers and advancing peace; it’s the key to achieve the stable and secure peace that the people of Israel yearn for with our neighbors with our all hearts. We seek a peace with our Palestinian neighbors. I look forward to working with you over the next four years to make the alliance between our two countries even stronger. Mr. President, on this historic visit, you will have an opportunity to see a different side of Israel. You will see past, present, and future in this tiny land which has left such a huge imprint on the course of civilization. You will see the ancient Dead Sea Scrolls, the world’s oldest text of the Bible, written in Hebrew here 2,000 years ago, scrolls that bear witness to the timeless bond between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel. You will meet the young men and women of Israel who make it one of the most creative and dynamic societies on earth. And you will see Israeli technology and innovation which is fundamentally transforming the way we live. Mr. President, Barack – on a lighter side, I had an opportunity to see your interview on Israeli television the other day. I took note of your desire to go incognito, so if you have a few free minutes, and you can arrange to slip away from your security – a daunting task – well, we picked out a few cafes and bars in Tel Aviv, as we even prepared a fake mustache for you.
“Mr. President, the people of Israel are honored to have you visit our country. We warmly welcome you as a cherished guest. We deeply appreciate your friendship. And we share your hope that the Middle East will enjoy a future of freedom, prosperity and peace. Mr. President, Baruch HaBa L’Yisrael: welcome to Israel.”
[9:10 a.m. EDT] -- “All the stores in the neighborhood were told that there would be no more deliveries for the rest of the week. Today, Tuesday, was essentially our last shopping day before Passover,” a resident in the heart of Jerusalem told Arutz Sheva. Residents of the Old City center will be limited in their travel, especially by car, during President Obama’s visit.
[8:50 a.m. EDT] -- President Obama’s wheels, known as Cadillac One, broke down “at the last minute,” reports Arutz Sheva. The heavily armored limousine manufactured by General Motors Company (NYSE:GM), which was flown over for the president’s visit, had to be towed for an undisclosed mechanical malfunction. While backup equipment was brought along for the visit, no backup car was included in the deal.
[8:35 a.m. EDT] -- While meeting President Obama upon his arrival in Tel Aviv this morning, Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel asked U.S. President Barack Obama to free Jonathan Pollard, the Israeli agent who has been serving a life sentence since 1985 on charges of selling U.S. secrets to Israel while working for naval intelligence.
"Please free Pollard," Ariel stated as he shook the president’s hand, according to the Jerusalem Post. The president reportedly didn’t respond.
[8:24 a.m. EDT] -- President Obama’s visit comes as a senior Israeli official says chemical weapons were recently used in neighboring Syria, the AP reports. The comments made Wednesday on Army Radio by Yuval Steinitz, the recently appointed minister of intelligence and strategic affairs, conflict with U.S. intelligence assessments that say there is no evidence that chemical weapons have been used against civilians in Syria’s ongoing civil war.
[8:20 a.m. EDT] -- Security is tight in Israel during President Obama’s stay. Some 15,000 police officers, not counting about 600 in the president's entourage, are mobilized. Tel Aviv alone has set up approximately 2,000 police barriers. Local traffic is expected to be jammed during the visit, reports Arutz Sheva.
[8 a.m. EDT] -- Local media reports say Obama landed in Jerusalem on Marine One on his way to the official president's residence.
[7:43 a.m. EDT] -- Obama: "Tov l'he'ot shuv b'aretz (good to be in Israel again.) . . . I am confident in declaring that our alliance is 'l'netzach,' eternal, is forever."
[7:38 a.m. EDT] -- Obama will receive from Netanyahu a gold-plated 0.4 millimeter nano-chip upon which the two countries’ declarations of independence are etched. The chip is placed on a Jerusalem stone from the Second Temple. The symbolism is strong: It underscores the countries’ democratic institutions, Israel’s technological innovations, and the Jewish people’s links to the land, according to the Jerusalem Post. Bibi’s wife, Sarah, will present a silver seder plate for the White House, necklaces for the U.S. president and first lady’s daughters Sasha and Malia, and a dog toy for the Obamas’ pet, Bo.
[6:54 a.m. EDT] -- U.S. President Barack Obama arrived in Israel shortly after noon local time Thursday for his first official visit to the country. One of the goals of the visit is to assure Israelis that political wrangling back in the States isn’t undermining relations with its long-standing ally.
The U.S. leader was welcomed at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport by President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Amir Peretz and other officials, and he was scheduled to review an Iron Dome defense battery that had been set up at the airport for his visit, according to Ynet News. The battery is part of the country’s 2-year-old air defense system that is partially funded from the approximately $3 billion in U.S. aid the country receives each year.
Obama will then be flown by the Marine One helicopter to Jerusalem. Here's the president's schedule, in local time:
2:00 p.m. – Meeting at the president’s residence.
5:30 p.m. – Meeting at the prime minister’s residence.
8:10 p.m. – Press conference.
8:30 p.m. – Dinner at the prime minister’s residence.
9:10 a.m. – Tour of Israel Museum.
11:00 a.m. – Visit to Ramallah in the Palestinian Authority.
5:00 p.m. – Speech at the International Convention Center.
6:00 p.m. – Reception at the U.S. Consulate.
8:00 p.m. – Dinner at the president’s residence.
8:50 a.m. – Wreath-laying ceremonies at the Yad Vashem Museum.
11:00 a.m. – Meeting with Israeli opposition leaders.
12:30 p.m. – Visit to Bethlehem, Palestinian Authority
3:20 p.m. – Obama departs.