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President Obama makes first official visit to Israel

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
March 20th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

In his first official trip to Israel, U.S. President Barack Obama reaffirmed America's commitment to the nation. Obama added that peace must come to the Holy Land. U.S. relations with both Israeli as well as Palestinians have weathered some tough patches as of late, and the president hopes to smooth these over in a carefully choreographed three-day stay. Many characterize the trip as high on symbolism -- but low on expectations.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - At a welcoming ceremony at Tel Aviv airport, Obama declared "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.

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

There are many doubts over his pledge to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, something Tehran is saying it is not pursuing.

In his welcoming remarks to Obama, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu cited an Israeli right to self-defense.

"Thank you for standing by Israel at this time of historic change in the Middle East," Netanyahu said. Relationships between the two leaders have been described as "testy."
 
"Thank you for unequivocally affirming Israel's sovereign right to defend itself by itself against any threat," Netanyahu said.

Obama spoke of his hopes for peace, without directly mentioning Palestinians, and white House 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."

In spite of all the pomp and circumstance, hopes for a new constructive policy are low. The White House has deliberately minimized expectations of any major breakthroughs, in a clear reversal from Obama's first four years in office.

Laborers have hung hundreds of U.S. and Israel flags on lampposts across Jerusalem, as well as banners that boast of "an unbreakable alliance," but the apparent lack of any substantial policy push has bemused many diplomats and analysts.

Both Netanyahu and Obama are starting new terms, and some believe that the visit could be seen as the American leader's endorsement of Israel's government.

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