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March 20th - Obama Day One in Israel

Today was the first day of President Obama’s visit to Israel. Before he arrived, the purpose of the visit was not clear. Now, it’s clear, without question, that his purpose was to charm the Israeli people. He as much as said so– in the press conference this evening. From the moment he landed, Obama made clear that he was here to show support for Israel. So to all those people who said President Obama had no special connection to Israel– You were wrong.

President Obama was here on a clear charm offensive, and it looks like it worked. The coverage of the President's visit has all been very positive. If one wanted to summarize the first day of the visit in a two words, they would be "extremely positive". The press was given unpatrolled access– including accompanying him into President Peres' residence with open microphones, capturing some very private/public moments when Netanyahu’s son spoke to President Obama about what it is like to be the child of a nation's leader and asking Obama how Malia was dealing with the experience. Obama who can some times be charming and sometimes be cold was 100% charming all day long.

As I write this piece, the joint Press Conference at the Prime Minister office just ended. As Raviv Drucker, one of the senior correspondence for Channel 10 News stated: "Of the 12 meetings between the two men to date, today's was the most successful." The press conference itself went well, with the two men making it clear that while they still maintain some differences of opinions, they agree on most matters. On the key matter of Iran the two leaders made clear there was absolutely no difference in the intelligence assessment of the two countries and that they were working closely together, sharing all the intelligence.They both stressed that Israel had the right to act alone to ensure her own security. However, Obama stated that he would not allow the Iranians to have nuclear weapons. The difference between the two views seems to be if the Iranians would enter a zone of immunity or not. Obama made it clear that he will not allow the Iranians to get nuclear weapons.

Joint Press Conference Transcript


On other areas there was even greater agreement. Netanyahu made it clear that he was committed to a two state solution. Obama was asked how come he did not make any progress on the Palestinian issue during his first term as he promised to do. His answer said it all– He said: "It’s really hard to make peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis. The issue has failed to be settled for 6 decades, because it is very difficult issue to solve..."

Finally, on the third issue, Syria, both leaders spoke in the same voice. When an Israeli reporter asked about yesterday's use of chemical weapons, and whether that did not cross the red line set by Obama, Obama answered that it was not yet clear the Syrians had used Chemical weapons. And although preliminary evidence points to them having been used, President Obama said he was very skeptical about the claims that the opposition used them. Obama further stated that he would not indicate what action he would take. However, he would take action if it turned out that the Syrian had in fact used chemical weapons.

All in all, the first day was a success for both sides. Obama succeeded in projecting the warmth that he wanted, and Bibi (as he was repeatedly called by Obama,) was able to show that Obama was embracing him and had forgiven him for his actions before the elections.

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