Obama arrived in Israel Tuesday night from Jordan. He is scheduled to meet with officials from both Israel and Palestine on Wednesday. He will be in the middle of a diplomatic cross fire since agreeing with either Israel or Palestine will make the other country extremely disgruntled.
He met with Israeli President Shimon Peres and received an amazingly warm welcome from Peres, who said his greatest wish is for a “great president of the United States. That is the greatest promise for us and the rest of the world.”
Obama toured the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial on a Jerusalem hillside as he moved through a busy day of meetings with Israeli and Palestinian officials, including Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
At the Holocaust memorial, Obama wore a white skullcap as he laid a wreath in memory of the victims of the Nazis. Later, he said: “I am always taken back to sort of the core question of humanity that the Holocaust raises. That is, on the one hand, man’s great capacity for evil, and on the other hand, our ability to stop evil.”
He added, “Despite its record monumental tragedy, this ultimately is a place of hope.”
Earlier Wednesday, Obama held a breakfast meeting with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Neither man spoke to reporters as they posed for news cameras at the plush downtown King David Hotel before sitting down to a breakfast of smoked salmon and local cheeses. After the meeting Obama met opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu.
Ehud Barak’s office issued a brief statement saying the two discussed “all the relevant issues” and the “future challenges facing Israel and the region” — which meant they most likely discussed Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts and Israel’s determination that Iran not be allowed to build atomic bombs.
Netanyahu told reporters those same two subjects were discussed in his meeting with Obama.
“The senator and I agreed that the primacy of preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power is clear, and this should guide our mutual policies.”
Many people in Israel are concerned that Obama would push Israel too hard in negotiations with the Palestinians.
But Netanyahu said Obama told him that “he would never seek in any way to compromise Israel’s security, and that this would be sacrosanct in his approach to political negotiations.”
At the King David Hotel, an “Israel for Obama” campaign poster was draped over an armchair in the lobby. The poster included Obama’s campaign slogan — “Change you can believe in” — in Hebrew.
Some Israelis who support Obama hope he will take a stronger hand with Israel when it ignores its commitments to the U.S. to halt settlement building and dismantle settlement satellites known as outposts.
“In general, I think tough love is better than a free hand,” said Samson Altman-Schevitz, head of the Israel for Obama campaign. He moved to Israel two years ago from Chicago, where Obama’s wife, Michelle, was his adviser at the University of Chicago.
Later Wednesday, Obama is scheduled to make the short drive from Jerusalem to Ramallah on the West Bank for talks with Abbas and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
After returning to Jerusalem to meet Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, he will fly by helicopter to the southern Israeli town of Sderot — the target of many Palestinian rocket attacks — then chopper back to Jerusalem to meet Olmert.