Will Obama's visit help 'turn the page' for Israel and the Palestinians?
Following a warm reception in Israel on Wednesday, US President Barack Obama will fly to the West Bank Thursday morning.
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Obama was feted when he arrived at Tel Aviv airport on Wednesday, with Israeli leaders lining up to praise the U.S. president for his firm commitment to the security of the Jewish state and his pledge not to let Iran develop nuclear weapons.Skip to next paragraph
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Netanyahu, while citing what he described as Israel's right to defend itself, said effusively that he was "absolutely convinced" that Obama was determined to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. Tehran says it is enriching uranium for peaceful purposes.
After four years of often icy relations with Netanyahu, the body language suddenly changed. Gone were the pursed lips and ill-disguised scowls. In came firm handshakes and back-slapping.
"Israel has no better friend than the United States of America," Netanyahu said, adding that he hoped his visit would help "turn the page" in relations with the Palestinians.
"Israel remains fully committed to peace and to the solution of two states for two peoples. We stretch out our hand in friendship to the Palestinian people," he added.
Watching from Ramallah, the Palestinian administrative centre just outside Jerusalem, Abbas's allies accused Netanyahu of repeating empty rhetoric and said Obama showed no inclination to re-engage with an issue that confounded his predecessors.
"The primary purpose of this visit is Israeli security, Israeli-American relations and saying that the U.S. has its back," said Hanan Ashrawi, a senior official in the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).
Obama will fly by helicopter the few miles from Jerusalem to Ramallah on Thursday morning, giving himself a birds' eye view of the walls and fences of the separation barrier between the two cities and of Israeli settlements on surrounding hilltops.
Before that, he will go to a museum in Jerusalem to see the Dead Sea Scrolls - ancient Jewish parchments discovered in the West Bank in the 1940s.
Israeli diplomats say that will help make amends to Israel for a speech Obama made in Cairo in 2009, when he appeared to argue the Jewish state derived its legitimacy from the Holocaust rather than an attachment to the land dating back to the Bible.
Obama will travel to Bethlehem on Friday to visit the Church of the Nativity, and will also lay a wreath on the grave in Jerusalem of Theodor Herzl, the Zionist visionary who died more than four decades before the 1948 founding of Israel.
The U.S. leader will then fly to neighbouring Jordan, one of only two Arab states that has made peace with Israel.
(Additional reporting by Noah Browning in Ramallah, Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza and Matt Spetalnick and Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem; Editing by Alastair Macdonald)
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