President Barack Obama has ended the second day of his visit to Israel. The day began with rocket fire from Gaza on southern Israel. Obama visited the Israel Museum — seeing the Dead Sea Scrolls and meeting the brains behind several trailblazing Israeli innovations. Later, he went to Ramallah, where he called for an end to preconditions and new talks toward an independent, sovereign Palestinian state. That’s all covered in our previous liveblog here. (And our liveblogs from yesterday are here.)

In late afternoon, Obama delivered his main address to young Israelis in Jerusalem — a rapturously received call for peace. Then he was honored at a state dinner at the President’s Residence. We covered him every step of the way, below. And we’ll be with you again tomorrow.

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Back from Ramallah, Obama prepares for main speech

Preamble: It’s been a hectic day for US President Barack Obama, on the second of his three days in Israel.

Before his day began, Gaza terrorists fired four rockets at Israel, one of which landed in the yard of a home in Sderot.

His first trip was to the Israel Museum, to see the Dead Sea Scrolls, and an exhibit on Israeli innovation, where he lingered longer than scheduled, asked questions, and posed for numerous photographs.

Then he went by helicopter to Ramallah for talks with Mahmoud Abbas, where he endorsed Palestinian statehood to end what he called the indignities of occupation.

Next up: His main speech, at the International Conference Center (Binyenei HaUma) in Jerusalem.

Our man at the ICC, Raphael Ahren, says it’s “like a fortress. Not even highly decorated police officers are allowed to enter the building without a blue wristband. Outside the building, thousands of students and hundreds of reporters are waiting in the hot Jerusalem sun for security checks.”

Gaza rockets a signal from Hamas

The rockets fired from Gaza this morning are a signal from Hamas that “nothing will happen without us,” Haaretz military analyst Amos Harel writes.

He says the last four months of quiet, since the end of the last round of fighting between Israel and Hamas, prove the Islamist group is fully capable not only of halting its own rocket fire but also of reining in Gaza’s other armed organizations.

The timing of this morning’s attack was “not coincidental,” and was aimed at reminding onlookers during the Obama visit that Hamas needs to be taken into account, Harel writes.

The rockets caused light damage and no injuries.

Obama meets Palestinian students

Following his meeting with Mahmoud Abbas, Obama met with eight Palestinian students.

Obama’s speechwriter Ben Rhodes tweeted that the meeting was a “chance to hear directly from young people from across the West Bank.”

From there, Obama flew back to Jerusalem. He is set to deliver the main address of his visit in one hour, at 5 p.m. local time.

Iran’s Khamenei threatens to raze Tel Aviv, Haifa

In Tehran, Supreme leader Ali Khamenei has just threatened to destroy Tel Aviv and Haifa if Israel dares to attack his country.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (photo credit: Kamran Jebreili/AP)

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (photo credit: Kamran Jebreili/AP)

“Sometimes the leaders of the Zionist regime threaten us,” he says, in speech broadcast live on TV — and doubtless timed to coincide with the Obama visit and the discussion in Jerusalem of ways to thwart Iran’s nuclear program. They should know, says Khamenei, “that if they are attack us, we will turn Tel Aviv and Haifa into wastelands.”

Meanwhile, back at home, Channel 2 is claiming that the president is rehearsing his speech before delivery at the International Conference Center shortly. He’s having his aides heckle him as he runs through the text, with calls like “Release Pollard,” the TV report claims, so that he is ready to smoothly negotiate any such interruptions from the audience.

Palestinians press Obama over prisoners

During Obama’s visit to Ramallah, Palestinian Minister of Prisoner Affairs Issa Qaraqe delivered a letter on behalf of the families of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons.

In the letter, the families asked Obama to push Israel to release the prisoners, and in particular Samer Isawwi, who has been on a hunger strike since the summer of 2012.

Isawwi was one of the terrorists released as part of the Gilad Shalit swap deal in 2011, only to be rearrested seven months ago.

The bottom line from Ramallah

ToI’s Matti Friedman cuts to the essence of Obama’s Ramallah comments in this piece, “Reversing policy of first term, Obama says no preconditions to talks, noting, “The demand for a settlement freeze as a precondition appears no longer to have US backing. In his statement, Obama said a solution to other core issues would also solve the question of settlements. ‘If we can get direct negotiations started again, I believe the shape of a potential deal is there,’ Obama said.”

Barack Obama speaking in Ramallah. (Screenshot: Fox News)

Barack Obama speaking in Ramallah. (Screenshot: Fox News)

Out on the streets of Ramallah, meantime, our Elhanan Miller runs into anti-Obama demonstrators, one of whom tells him: “Obama is worse than Bush because he knows better. He knows what American money for Iron Dome does. He knows what E1 means. He’s not an ignoramus like George Bush. As a young man he understood the situation in Palestine; he is a complete hypocrite.”

Hall fills up ahead of Obama speech

The Jerusalem hall where Obama is about to speak is packed, the stage lined with US and Israeli flags.

The Israeli national anthem, “Hatikva,” was followed by the “Star Spangled Banner” as the crowd waited for Obama to arrive.

The speech is the central event of Obama’s visit, and is supposed to be an address to the Israeli people. The audience is made up of journalists, VIPs and students from Israeli universities.

Israel’s pride in its hi-tech prowess was called into question by a failure to provide outlets for the hundreds of electricity-hungry journalists, the TOI’s Raphael Ahren reports from the hall.

Obama speaking in Jerusalem

Obama begins speaking to enthusiastic applause.

He speaks of the “friendship that binds us together.”

He says he has “borne witness to the ancient history of the people of Israel,” and seen the country’s future in hi-tech.

He says “only in Israel” could he see the Dead Sea Scrolls and technology on the Mars Rover “together.”

But he was “most excited” about this speech, he said.

Disagreements with Netanyahu a ‘plot,’ Obama jokes

Obama jokes that the disagreements with “my friend Bibi” in the past few years were nothing more than a plot to “provide material for Eretz Nehederet” — a popular Israeli comedy sketch show.

The line gets a big laugh.

He speaks of Passover. “For the Jewish people this story is central to who you’ve become,” he says, but it is also universal, part of the link between Christianity, Islam and Judaism, the faiths that revere Jerusalem.

The lessons of Passover

Growing up in different parts of the world “with no firm roots,” he says, the holiday spoke to him of a yearning for home.

He says people must struggle for freedom, and quotes Martin Luther King as saying before his death that he might not reach the goal, but his people as a group would.

He mentions “centuries of suffering and exile” suffered by Jews. But the “dream of freedom finally found its full expression in the Zionist idea.”

Zionism is rooted in the idea that “people deserve to be free in a land of their own,” he says, to more applause.

 

Kind words for Israel

Obama speaks of Israel’s absorption of immigrants from across the world, its technology and democracy, and its “tireless” free press.

He speaks of the country’s “lively” public debate, then adds, “Lively might be an understatement.”

He also mentions the “courage” of the IDF and the resilience of Israelis in the face of terror.

The US became the first nation to recognize Israel 11 minutes after its declaration of independence, he notes.

‘Your future is bound to ours’

He likes talking to young people, he says, because “their energy and ambition always gives me hope.”

“I believe your future is bound to ours,” he says, before a heckler shouts something.

“That’s the lively debate we were talking about,” Obama jokes, without blinking or losing his cool, and gets a standing ovation.

“I wouldn’t feel comfortable if I didn’t have at least one heckler,” he says, grinning.

The US is committed to Israel’s security, Obama says

He stresses the US commitment to Israel’s security, saying “children the same age as my daughters” went to bed with the fear of rockets “because of who they are and where they live.”

When he mentions Iron Dome, the crowd gives him a round of applause.  The crowd is very much with Obama, and he’s getting applause every few sentences.

He mentions the five Israelis killed by terrorists in Bulgaria, and says Hezbollah should be called “what it truly is — a terrorist organization.”

He promises close cooperation regarding the transfer of chemical weapons from Syria to Hezbollah. He says the world is watching and “will hold you accountable.”

‘All options are on the table’ regarding Iran

“It’s no wonder Israelis view this as an existential threat,” he says of Iran’s nuclear program, and adds that it’s a threat to the US as well.

Iran is “under more pressure than ever before and that pressure is increasing,” he says, thanks to US-led sanctions.

He says there is a joint interest in resolving this “peacefully,” through “strong and principled diplomacy.”

“We have to do everything we can to resolve this diplomatically,” he says, but “with the sense of urgency that is required.”

But “all options are on the table,” he says: “America will do what we must to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.” Much applause.

‘Atem lo levad’

Those who reject Israel’s right to exist might as well reject the sky, because “Israel is not going anywhere,” he says, to the longest applause of the speech.

“So long as there is a United States of America,” he says, “Atem lo levad.” That’s Hebrew for, “You are not alone.”

He says Israel has taken risks for peace, mentioning Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Rabin.

But many young people are now skeptical about the possibility of peace, he says.

Only Israelis will decide their country’s future, he says. And some in the hall will not agree with him — “that’s part of a democracy.”

“But I also believe it’s important to be open and honest — especially with your friends,” he says.

An ‘independent and viable Palestine’

Obama says he speaks as a friend “concerned about your future.”

Given demographics, he says, the only way for Israel to survive as  Jewish, democratic nation is by the creation of an “independent and viable Palestine.”

Israel needs peace because “no wall will be high enough” to keep out every threat.

The Arab uprisings mean “peace will have to be made among peoples, not governments.”

“Progress” with the Palestinians would sideline extremists and help moderates, he says.

“Security must be at the center of any agreement,” he says.

The US, he says, “will oppose unilateral efforts to bypass negotiations through the United Nations.”

But the Palestinian “right to justice” needs to be recognized.

 

Obama quotes Sharon, presses for moves toward peace

Obama discusses the Palestinian predicament, noting the presence of a “foreign army” controlling movement and a failure to punish settler violence.

Just as Jews deserve independence, so do Palestinians, he says.

He recounts meeting a group of young Palestinians earlier in the day. He says they weren’t different from his own daughters, or from those of Israelis.

“Only you can determine the kind of democracy you will have,” he says, and this will define not only the relationship with the Palestinians but the nature of Israel.

He quotes Ariel Sharon saying that if Israel pursues control of all of the land of Israel, it will “lose it all.”

‘There’s an opportunity’

He praises Abbas and Fayyad as real partners.

“There’s an opportunity. There’s a window,” he says. “Peace is possible.”

He says the days in which Arab regimes could use Israel to distract their civilians from problems at home “need to be over.” Arabs need to normalize relations with Israel.

The Palestinians “need to recognize that Israel will be a Jewish state.” And Israelis must recognize that settlements are counterproductive and that a future Palestinian state “must be viable.”

 

Praise for Israel’s economy and tech

“Political leaders will not take risks unless people push them to take risks,” he says.

He says Israel is “the most powerful country in this region, and has the support of the most powerful country in the world.”

He cites the old Ben-Gurion quote according to which in Israel, “being a realist means believing in miracles.”

Then he praises Israel’s economy and technology. “If people want to see the future of the world economy, they should look at Tel Aviv,” he says.

Israelis are so active on social networks, he says, “that every day seems to bring another Facebook campaign on where I should give this speech.”

‘You, the young people of Israel, must now claim its future’

“This should be a hub for thriving regional trade and an engine for opportunity,” he says of Israel.

He says that tomorrow he’ll visit the grave of Theodor Herzl, and that of Yitzhak Rabin. He’ll also be at Yad Vashem. 

“We bear all that history on our shoulders. … Today, as we face the twilight of Israel’s founding generation, you, the young people of Israel, must now claim its future.”

He says he has been inspired by the Jewish concept of “Tikkun Olam.”

“That’s the task of all of us. May God bless you, may God bless Israel. May God bless the United States of America,” he says, adding “Toda raba” — Hebrew for “Thank you very much” — before the crowd gives him a standing ovation and the speech ends.

‘Heckler thought Obama’s speech too pro-Israeli’

Channel 2 says the heckler who disrupted Obama’s Jerusalem speech shouted “Free Palestine.” The heckler, who thought the president’s speech was too pro-Israel, was briefly questioned by police but not held.

Meanwhile, BuzzFeed reports that according to a pool reporter who was at the scene, the audience member actually heckled Obama in Hebrew about Jonathan Pollard. Said poll reporter was mistaken.

“This is part of the lively debate that we talked about,” Obama said in response, eliciting cheers from the audience.

Obama on his way to meet with consulate officials

After speaking in front of students in Jerusalem, Obama is making his way from the International Convention Center to a meeting with officials from the US consulate in Jerusalem.

He will later dine with President Shimon Peres.

Miri Regev: Obama called for pressure against Netanyahu

Likud MK Miri Regev responds to Obama’s Jerusalem speech, telling the Walla news website that it could be interpreted as calling for for “public pressure against Netanyahu’s leadership.”

Regev says that “Obama’s visit is in fact the speech at the International Convention Center, not the reception, not the talk with Netanyahu and not the press conferences.”

Netanyahu thanks Obama for unconditional support

Netanyahu thanks Obama for his “unconditional support of Israel,” as expressed in the speech he gave to students in Jerusalem.

He adds that he shares Obama’s views regarding the need to promote peace and ensure the security of all Israeli citizens.

“The prime minister also agrees with President Obama that we have a wonderful country,” reads a statement from Netanyahu’s office.

Eretz Nehederet, or ‘wonderful country,’ is also the name of a popular Israeli satirical TV program to which Obama referred in his speech.

Khenin: A leader is measured by deeds, not words

Hadash leader Dov Khenin says Obama’s speech is “impressive,” but not worthy of a standing ovation just yet.

“Obama came here to represent American and not Israeli interests,” Khenin tells the Walla news website, praising the US president.

He adds, however, that he won’t give him a standing ovation, “because the test of an American president is not nice speeches, but the ability to advance policy and change.”

Students respond to Obama’s Jerusalem speech

Students who were present at Obama’s speech in Jerusalem respond to the leader’s message:

“It was wonderful. There aren’t many politicians in Israel who speak like that,” says Shmuel Cohen, a 26-year-old student from Jerusalem who studies at Sapir College. “He speaks of hope; in Israel, most politicians’ speeches are based on trying to intill fear in us,” he adds.

“He quoted Jewish sources, but also showed us the Palestinian perspective. I thought that was fair,” says Cohen.

Tel Aviv resident Noa Regev, who currently studies aerospace engineering at the Technion, feels that the speech was more controversial than she thought it would be — but that she liked it. “It might have looked to you as if the whole hall was clapping in agreement. But where I sat, I heard enough people moaning, “What’s he talking about?” she says. “But I thought it was great. It’s good that he didn’t just come here to butter us up,” she adds.

Students wait in line to enter the International Convention Center in Jerusalem ahead of US President Barack Obama's speech. (photo credit: Raphael Ahren/The Times of Israel)

Students wait in line to enter the International Convention Center in Jerusalem ahead of US President Barack Obama’s speech. (photo credit: Raphael Ahren/The Times of Israel)

“I agree with most of what he said… the spirit of things,” comments Regev.

Aaron Frimer, a student at Bar-Ilan University, says that the speech didn’t really break new ground, but reiterated well-known truths that deserve to be restated.

“They’ve been saying the same thing for 20 years; it’s really nothing new. But Obama said it loud and clear, and the truth is that it needs to be said loud and clear.”

Ariel, from The Hebrew University in Jerusalem, concurs. “I thought he spoke at eye level to us, and he really hit the right notes, speaking a few words in Hebrew and relating to Jewish history and culture, and so on. But I was a bit disappointed that he didn’t offer anything concrete, any kind of peace plan. But I guess he’s right; these things are better discussed in private conversations and not in public speeches.”

Other students’ reactions are less enthusiastic.

“It was really a horrible speech. He only talked about the Jews. He talked about having separate countries for Jews and Arabs… that means that we must leave Israel,” a young Arab woman fumes, refusing to state her name. Another Arab student, who also declines to be identified, dryly says, “It was interesting. We’ll hope for the best.”

Gal-on: Obama speech shows the US needs us for peace

Meretz leader Zahava Gal-on also reacts to Obama’s Jerusalem speech, saying she “sympathized” with the US president’s message.

“I sympathized with his worldview, with his deep understanding of the world, of the Middle Eastern  environment and also of what is happening here at home. He spoke from the heart and entered the heart,” says Gal-on.

She adds that Obama’s speech highlights the fact that the US needs Israel in order to make peace in the region.

“If we really want peace, the Americans will help us achieve it. If not — they won’t be able to do it without us. Peace is in our hands,” Gal-on says.

Americans in Israel say speech ‘well delivered’ but ‘unusually bold’

ToI’s Mitch Ginsburg reports:

At Mike’s Place on Jaffa Road, one of Jerusalem’s only true watering holes — a bar with Southern rock on the sound system and college basketball on TV — a group of American Birthright participants in their early- to mid-30s, as well as other US students from the University of Haifa, came together to watch Obama’s address at the ICC. Almost all were a bit late for the start of the speech. Most listened in silence and those at my table listened especially keenly for the word “peace” — and raised their glasses to drink each time Obama spoke the word.

Michael Gold, participating in the Birthright trip, which is focused on hiking in Israel, said he recognized the themes of the speech from Obama’s US election campaign. “He wanted to rejuvenate and motivate,” he said.

Rachel Herchenberg, a trip leader from Baltimore who joined the “U-S-A!” chants when Obama concluded his speech with the usual “God bless America” refrain, said she was “proud to be an American in Israel at the same time as the US president was in the country.” She described a proud feeling of looking up at the sky and seeing the president’s helicopter overhead.

Another trip member, who would only give his name as “Steven from New York” — he explained he worked for a financial company that did not like its employees speaking to the media — said he thought the speech “was a little more pushy than I would have expected. It was unusually bold for a president in a foreign country.”

At another table, a trio of Haifa University students — hailing from the universities of Wisconsin, Portland State and Ohio State — were all impressed by the speech. “I liked the content,” said Jake Beckert. “It was well delivered.”

“But we’re waiting to see the action,” added Zoe Morgan, who admitted that she “got goosebumps” when Obama spoke about his meeting with Palestinian students.

All three students seemed well informed about Israeli politics and the shortcomings of both the system and the political players in it, offering analyses of the narrowness of Shelly Yachimovich and Tzipi Livni’s respective platforms. All three said they hoped the speech would trigger change — but that they doubted it. “I’m really an optimist,” said Morgan, “but I’m afraid that no.”

Bennett: No nation can be an occupier in its land

“No nation is an occupier in its own country,” Finance and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett of the right-wing Jewish Home party says in response to Obama’s Jerusalem speech.

“Obama’s words surely stemmed from concern for Israel and true friendship, but we experienced the results of our previous withdrawal this morning in Sderot and in the form of thousands of casualties during the last few years,” Bennett says.

“It’s time for new perceptions and creativity in [the search] for a solution to the Middle East conflict,” he adds.

During his speech, Obama said that Israelis must recognize that settlements are counterproductive and that a future Palestinian state “must be viable” and contiguous.

US President Barack Obama delivers a speech at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem,Thursday. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

US President Barack Obama delivers a speech at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem, Thursday. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Obama discussed the Palestinian predicament, noting the presence of a “foreign army” controlling movement and a failure to punish settler violence. Just as Jews deserve independence, so do Palestinians, he said.

Dignitaries head to Peres residence for Obama dinner

One hundred and twenty Israeli dignitaries head to the presidential residence in Jerusalem’s Talbieh neighborhood for a dinner with Obama, who is currently meeting with US Consulate officials.

Israeli and American dignitaries wait for US President Barack Obama to arrive at a formal dinner at the residence of President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem. (photo credit: screen capture, Channel 10)

Israeli and American dignitaries wait for US President Barack Obama to arrive at a formal dinner at the residence of President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem. (photo credit: screen capture, Channel 10)

Among those attending the dinner are Labor party leader, Shelly Yachimovich; businesswoman Ofra Strauss; Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat; actress Gila Almagor; chemist and Nobel Prize laureate Ada Yonath; Israel’s chief rabbis; and the Ethiopian-born Miss Israel 2013, Yityish “Titi” Aynaw.

US President Barack Obama, left, shake hands with Yityish 'Titi' Aynaw, a 21-year old Ethiopian-Israeli woman who was the first Ethiopian-born woman to be crowned Miss Israel, at the presidential residence in Jerusalem, Thursday, as President Shimon Peres (center) looks on. (photo credit: Avi Ohayon/Flash90)

US President Barack Obama, left, shake hands with Yityish ‘Titi’ Aynaw, a 21-year old Ethiopian-Israeli woman who was the first Ethiopian-born woman to be crowned Miss Israel, at the presidential residence in Jerusalem, Thursday, as President Shimon Peres (center) looks on. (photo credit: Avi Ohayon/Flash90)

Visit is a window of opportunity, says Yachimovich, ahead of dinner

Labor leader Yachimovich says ahead of her meeting with Obama at the presidential residence tonight that the US president’s visit should not be seen as a political “peak after which we can rest, but a window of opportunity to be influential rather than just be dragged” after other political players.

“We’ve seen a lot of warmth toward the reigning prime minister and relations are thawing,” Yachimovich is quoted by the Walla news website as saying. She adds, however, that the government shouldn’t rest on its laurels, but see the visit as an opportunity for peace.

She reportedly adds that she intends to explain her party’s policies to the US president, especially concerning the two-state solution and the Iranian nuclear threat.

Labor party head Shelly Yachimovich poses with Finance Minister Yair Lapid at a reception in honor of US President Barack Obama at the presidential residence in Jerusalem, Thursday. (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

Labor party head Shelly Yachimovich poses with Finance Minister Yair Lapid at a reception in honor of US President Barack Obama at the presidential residence in Jerusalem, Thursday. (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

Peres to award Obama with Medal of Distinction

At tonight’s dinner with Obama, Peres will award the US president with the Presidential Medal of Distinction “for his unique contribution to the security of the state of Israel,” for the first time in the history of US-Israeli relations.

The ceremony will be held at the dinner, which will take place at the presidential residence in Jerusalem. Also attending are Netanyahu and his wife, along with several other Israeli and American public figures, dignitaries and officials.

Obama speech ‘important and inspiring,’ says Livni

“Obama’s speech is important and inspiring,” writes Tzipi Livni on her Facebook page.

“Our job, as reflected in his eloquent speech to Israeli youths in the audience and at home, is to implement our Zionist vision,” Livni says.

Obama arrives fashionably late at presidential residence

Accompanied by Peres and Netanyahu, Obama enters the banquet hall at Peres’s residence in Jerusalem for a formal dinner. He is 10 minutes late.

President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara welcome US President Barack Obama to the presidential residence in Jerusalem. (photo credit: screen capture, Channel 10)

President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, welcome US President Barack Obama to the presidential residence in Jerusalem. (photo credit: screen capture, Channel 10)

Peres welcomes Obama in speech

Peres welcomes Obama to Jerusalem, saying he was “moved by the way in which you spoke to the hearts of the young Israelis.”

Obama also conveys “love to the inhabitants of the south,” who carry the “heavy burden” of rockets “so courageously.”

Peres presenting Obama with Medal of Distinction

Peres is about to present his American counterpart with the highest Israeli honor, the Presidential Medal of Distinction.

This award speaks to your tireless work to make Israel strong and peace possible,” Peres says.

“Your presidency has given the close ties between Israel and the United States a new height, a sense of intimacy, a vision for the future. The people of Israel are particularly moved by your unforgettable contribution to their security, to defending our skies, to the collaboration in the domain of intelligence, which is the right way to preempt bloodshed,” says he president.

He adds that “the diplomatic and military bonds” between Jerusalem and Washington have “reached an unprecedented level.”

Peres praises Obama’s leadership, strength of character

Peres says that during Obama’s previous visit to Israel, the American leader had asked him for advice.

“It is not in my nature to let questions go unanswered,” Peres says. “So I suggested that while people say that the future belongs to the young, it is the present that really belongs to the young.”

He adds, “Leave the future to me. I have time,” eliciting laughs from the dignitaries gathered at his residence.

Peres says that he prayed Obama would meet the challenges facing him “with wisdom and determination, without losing hope, without allowing others to lose hope.” Obama says his prayers were answered, because “after all, they came from Jerusalem.”

Peres praises Obama’s leadership and “strength of character,” his principles and the fact that he has “never surrendered to hopelessness,” standing “firmly by his vision.”

The president says Obama’s values serve both the American nation and Israel, as well as “all nations around the world” — embodying the Jewish principle of tikkun olam.

Peres adds that “the Israel of today has exceeded the vision we had 65 years ago… the United States of America helped us to make this possible.”

Peres wishes Iranian people a happy new year

During a speech addressed to Obama, Peres takes the time to wish the Iranian people a happy new year.

“Tonight, the Iranian people are celebrating their New Year, Nuruz. I wish them, from the depths of my heart, a happy holiday, real freedom,” Peres says.

“Israel will seize any opportunity for peace,” he adds.

Turning to Obama, he says that “I am convinced that you will do whatever is necessary to free the world’s horizons and the skies of Jerusalem from the Iranian threat,” the “greatest danger to world peace.”

President Shimon Peres speaks at a state dinner in honor of visiting US President Barack Obama. (photo credit: image capture from Channel 10)

President Shimon Peres speaks at a state dinner in honor of visiting US President Barack Obama. (photo credit: image capture from Channel 10)

Peres presents Obama with Medal of Distinction

Peres presents Obama with the Medal of Distinction, the highest Israeli award possible.

“I am privileged to bestow upon you the Medal of Distinction,” Peres says. “It was recommended by a committee of seven prominent Israeli citizens, headed by our former Chief Justice Shamgar, and including our former president Navon. It was my view and I was glad to accept their recommendation.”

He then proposes a toast to the US president, “from a grateful nation to a great leader.” He thanks Obama in Hebrew.

“You inspire the world with your leadership,” he says.

President Shimon Peres presents US President Barack Obama with the Presidential Medal of Distinction at the presidential residence in Jerusalem, Thursday. (photo credit: Mark Neyman/Flash90)

President Shimon Peres presents US President Barack Obama with the Presidential Medal of Distinction at the presidential residence in Jerusalem, Thursday. (photo credit: Mark Neyman/Flash90)

Peres lauds Obama’s commitment to Israel

Peres lauds Obama for “responding” to Israel’s need, being a small country, to “maintain our qualitative edge.”

He says “the strength of the Israel Defense Forces affords us the ability to seek peace,” adding that “what America has contributed to Israel’s security is the best guarantee to end the march of folly, of terror and bloodshed.”

Peres praises the way Obama and his administration “stay true, time and again, to your bonds of friendship with us.”

He adds that Obama’s “commitment and deeds speak volumes about the principles that guide America to strive for freedom and democracy at home, and all over the world.”

US President Barack Obama and President Shimon Peres toast after Obama receives the Israeli Medal of Distinction from Peres during a state dinner at the presidential residence in Jerusalem, Thursday. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

US President Barack Obama and President Shimon Peres toast after Obama receives the Israeli Medal of Distinction from Peres during a state dinner at the presidential residence in Jerusalem, Thursday. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Obama proposes toast to Peres, jokes about his longevity

Obama thanks Peres for the medal.

He says Israel has been Peres’s life’s work and jokingly refers to his longevity. Obama proposes a toast to the nearly 90-year-old Israeli president and wishes him long life, “to 120″ — in Hebrew.

We should probably get this wine out of the picture, he says, “otherwise people will say I’m having too much fun in Israel.”

US President Barack Obama speaks at a state dinner after receiving the Presidential Medal of Distinction on March 21, 2013. (photo credit: image capture from Channel 10)

US President Barack Obama speaks at a state dinner after receiving the Presidential Medal of Distinction on March 21, 2013. (photo credit: image capture from Channel 10)

Obama: American Jews stood with African-Americans in struggle for freedom

Obama speaks lightly about the Jewish precept that you shouldn’t say too many good things about a person in their presence. Thanks for the medal, he says, but “Dayenu” — enough — a timely Passover reference.

More substantively, he parallels the American struggle for freedom and equality to Israel’s struggle. He hails the sacrifices of people like Martin Luther King, and of Peres — saying their work was central to his ability to come to Israel. He talks about the way American Jews stood shoulder-to-shoulder with African-Americans in their struggle for freedom.

And, as he did earlier in the day, he notes that his visit is taking place shortly before the Jewish festival of freedom. In that context, he speaks of the similarities between the histories of Israelis and of African-Americans — former slaves who suffered terrible hardship but eventually achieved freedom in a new land. “Our very existence, our presence here tonight, is a testament that all things are possible,” he says.

And now the dignitaries get to eat.

Channel 2 remarked earlier that Peres “is going out of his way” to make Obama aware that he has a partner for peace in Israel — the president, that is, if not the prime minister. There was also much amusement that Peres took Obama’s wine glass away from him before Obama could speak. When Obama wanted to toast Peres, he was, therefore, wine-less. A replacement glass was quickly provided. “That’s good wine,” Obama pronounced.

It was the only way to make my voice heard, says Arab heckler

The man who heckled Obama during his Jerusalem speech, a Balad activist from Eilaboun, tells Ynet he does not regret what he did, because it was “the only way to make my voice heard and send [Obama] the message he had to hear.”

Rabi Eid, who studies political science and philosophy at Haifa University, tells Ynet his interruption of Obama’s speech was not premeditated.

“Obama’s visit supports the Israeli side at the expense of the Palestinian people. This country should belong to all citizens, not just the Jewish citizens. I don’t regret my words,” Eid tells the news site. He adds that he had expected Obama to deliver a “democratic” speech, but “unfortunately, his speech was provocative, and that was what made me decide to convey the message to him.”

Earlier, Eid shouted during Obama’s speech: “Have you really come to promote the peace process, or rather to provide Israel with more weapons with which to kill the Palestinian people? On your way here, did you see the [security] fence, or who killed Rachel Corrie?”

US President Barack Obama looks toward the crowd and strains to hear an audience member's shout to him during his speech at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem, Thursday. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

US President Barack Obama looks toward the crowd and strains to hear an audience member’s shout to him during his speech at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem, Thursday. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Israeli singer Rita performs for Obama

Israeli singer Rita, who moved to Israel from Iran in 1970, sings “Jerusalem of Gold,” as Obama and Peres look on appreciatively.

Rita blows Obama a kiss at the end of the song, but Obama doesn’t notice, because he’s talking to Peres.

Obama mouths lyrics of ‘Amazing Grace’ along with singer

Israeli countertenor David D’Or takes the stage after Rita, passionately belting out “Amazing Grace” for Obama. Obama mouths the words to the famous Christian hymn, along with the Israeli crooner.

At the end of the song, he whispers a comment on the performance into Netanyahu’s ear.

US President Barack Obama, right, shares a laugh with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during an official state dinner at the presidential resident in Jerusalem, Thursday. (photo credit: Avi Ohayon/Flash90)

US President Barack Obama, right, shares a laugh with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during an official state dinner at the presidential resident in Jerusalem, Thursday. (photo credit: Avi Ohayon/Flash90)

Jerusalem police restrict entry to Temple Mount

Jerusalem police announce restrictions on entry to the Temple Mount Friday. Men 50 and over and all women will be allowed to enter.

There have been disturbances on the mount after Friday prayers for the past two weeks.

Police are also concerned about the danger of violence, given Obama’s continuing visit.

Obama will leave Israel tomorrow afternoon.

Obama ends Day 2

Taking us back to where today began: In response to the rocket fire from Gaza this morning, in which a Kassam landed in the yard of a home in Sderot, Israel has announced that it is cutting back the fishing zone allowed for Gaza fishermen — from 6 miles off the Gaza coast to 3 miles, which is what it was before Operation Pillar of Defense in November. The move was approved by Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon.

The IDF is not going to allow a resumption of the “drip, drip” or rocket attacks, security sources say. The sources believe that the rocket fire was timed to coincide with Obama’s visit.

The president is wrapping up his second day here, concluding the state dinner to head back to the King David Hotel. He’ll set out again tomorrow morning, with a visit to Mount Herzl, and the tombs of Yitzhak Rabin and Theodor Herzl, a visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum, another meeting with Netanyahu, and a trip to Bethlehem.

We’ll be with him all the way. Until then, The Times of Israel liveblog is calling it a night. Thanks for reading. See you tomorrow.