Obama’s Middle East trip begins this afternoon in Jerusalem
US president will inspect Iron Dome missile system on arrival in Jerusalem
Israeli schoolchildren rehearse holding the Israeli and US flags as two women stand in for US president Barack Obama and Israeli counterpart Shimon Peres yesterday. Photograph: Baz Ratner/Reuters
The focus in Israel ahead of his arrival was mainly the expected traffic disruption, particularly in Jerusalem, where much of the city will be closed to cars.
At the airport Mr Obama will inspect a battery of the Iron Dome missile defence system, paid for largely with US funding, which has been brought specially to the airport for the visit.
The Iron Dome, which intercepted about 80 per cent of projectiles fired from Gaza in the November conflict, will be portrayed by the leaders as the outstanding example of Washington’s commitment to Israeli security needs.
Tonight, after a visit to the president’s residence, Mr Obama and Mr Netanyahu will meet for an unprecedented five hours of talks. They are are expected to focus on Iran’s nuclear programme, how to revive peace talks with the Palestinians and regional issues, particularly the conflict in Syria.
At the start of the meeting Mr Netanyahu will present Mr Obama with a gold-coated 0.04sq mm nanochip bearing the Israeli and US declarations of independence, etched side by side.
Mr Obama has already said he is not bringing a new peace initiative, but US secretary of state John Kerry, who is accompanying the president on his trip, will return to Israel on Saturday night for discussions on ways to renew the peace talks with the Palestinians.
The feeling in Jerusalem is that if Mr Obama is the carrot , then Mr Kerry will be the stick.
A poll released yesterday revealed that most Israeli Jews did not trust that Mr Obama had Israel’s interests at heart.
Although a large majority of the general population believe Israel should hold peace talks with the Palestinians (74.3 per cent), only 36 per cent think it will lead to an agreement in the coming years.
In Bethlehem, which Mr Obama will visit on Friday, residents tore down a large billboard with a picture of the US president close to the church of the Nativity. The crowd, protesting at what they termed Mr Obama’s pro-Israel policy, drew a swastika on the billboard. There were also anti-Obama protests yesterday in Ramallah.