A missile show-and-tell, dinner with Shimon Peres and a quick tour of Bethlehem: the itinerary of Barack Obama's Middle East visit takes shape
The American President will meet both Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas during his tour of Israel and the Palestinian Territories
Tuesday 12 March 2013
Like a tourist with a long list of things to do and not enough time to do them, Barack Obama is planning a packed schedule when he arrives in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories next Wednesday for a 48 hour visit that some are hoping will kick start the stalled peace process.
As well the usual official dinners, speeches and meetings, the whole region will be watching to see whether American president - who is visiting Israel and the Palestinian territories for the first time as president – can provide the impetus for fresh talks between the two sides.
Mr Obama is set to arrive at Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion airport at around noon next Wednesday. After no doubt being spared the usual security screening, he is to be whisked off to inspect a battery of Israel’s ‘Iron Dome’ missile defence system.
The battery is being moved up to Ben-Gurion, where they are not normally stationed, to save some precious time. Israeli military officials are keen to show off their hardware which has apparently proved hugely successful – however, they will no doubt be more than a little miffed by a report recently published by Professor Theodore Postol of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who suggests that the defence system's success rate may have been “drastically lower” than the 84 per cent claimed by the Israeli military during the recent war with Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that controls Gaza.
The President will then take the 45 minute drive along Israel’s Highway 1 to Jerusalem and immediately call in on Israel’s President, Shimon Peres. That meeting will no doubt be easier than the subsequent session with Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s residence on the city’s Balfour Street, given their famously icy relationship.
Exactly which sites Mr Obama will then visit is still subject to some debate. An advance delegation of 50 US diplomats, security personnel and other officials arrived in Israel on Sunday to discuss the finer details. White House and the US Secret Service visited Mr Peres’s residence on Tuesday. “They examined and measured every corner, and left nothing to chance,” said Israel’s presidential residence director general Efrat Duvdevani. “They wanted to know where each person would be standing in the course of the ceremony, how many steps the president would have to take from his car into the building, where the speeches would be delivered and where the catering would be positioned.”
What is agreed is that Mr Obama will take part in an official dinner at President Peres’s residence on Wednesday and then retire to the King David hotel in central Jerusalem, where he will no doubt be asked to add his signature to the polished floor, joining scores of other world leaders and celebrities who have previously spent the night at the hotel.
On the Thursday, the Mr Obama will be shown the Dead Sea Scrolls, Yad Vashem, Jerusalem’s Holocaust museum, and Israel’s national cemetery, where Yitzhak Rabin, the former Israeli prime minister who was assassinated in 1995, is buried.
The visit changes tact on Friday when the president takes his roadshow to the Palestinian territories and visits the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, in Ramallah. Mr Abbas, who has previously expressed his anger with Mr Obama after the US voted against the Palestinian statehood bid at the United Nations last November, is likely to raise the issue of Palestinian prisoners being held in Israeli jails.
And then finally it’s off to Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity – which the UN recognised as a world heritage site after the Palestinians won the UN vote, before heading back to Ben-Gurion for an official farewell ceremony.
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