Leaders find a joke in the 'red line'
Red lines. When it comes to the Middle East, President Barack Obama is encountering them everywhere. They are painted on the ground as directional markers for visiting dignitaries, and they are in Obama's and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's foreign policy rhetoric as not-to-be-crossed warnings to Syria and Iran. As Obama prepared to tour a missile battery that is part of Israel's Iron Dome defenses, an aide at the Tel Aviv airport directed him to follow the red line on the tarmac. Netanyahu has set "red lines" on Iran's nuclear development capabilities. Israel repeatedly has threatened to take military action should Iran appear to be on the verge of developing a bomb. The U.S. has pushed for more time to allow diplomacy and economic penalties to run their course. The issue has become a point of tension between the two allies. Referring to the painted red lines at the airport, Obama joked that it was "a psychological ploy." Netanyahu replied: "It was minutely planned."
President to speak to young Israelis
The centerpiece of the visit will be a speech by Obama today at the Jerusalem International Convention Center, where he will address an audience of young Israelis, assembled by several universities. Obama also is expected to redress what some Israelis regarded as two affronts in his landmark speech to the Muslim world in 2009. In that speech, he dwelt on the suffering of the people of Palestine and declared that the aspirations for a Jewish homeland were rooted principally in the tragedy of the Holocaust.
Palestinians stage small protests
Palestinians held several small protests in the West Bank and Gaza. Demonstrators in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip burned posters of Obama and U.S. flags, accusing the U.S. of being biased toward Israel. In the West Bank, which Obama will visit today, about 200 activists erected about a dozen tents in an area just outside of Jerusalem to draw attention to Israel's policy of building settlements. The tents were pitched in E1, a strategically located area where Israel has said it plans on building thousands of homes. The U.S. has harshly criticized the plan.
Obama presents a tree to Peres
Obama flew by helicopter to Jerusalem, where he met with Israeli President Shimon Peres and presented him with a magnolia tree, transported aboard Air Force One. "Just like what we have outside the White House," Obama said to reporters. He and Peres, 89, a former prime minister, then planted the tree in Peres' garden. Obama said at the tree-planting ceremony: "It is an incredible honor to offer this tree to this beautiful garden, and to someone who is champion of the Israeli people and a champion of peace ... And we're very good gardeners." Tests will be carried out on the tree by the ministry of agriculture, required of all plants brought into the country.
Associated Press, New York Times, Washington Post, the Guardian