LIVEBLOG (now closed): Obama's last day in Israel

With farewell embrace to Netanyahu, Obama ends Israel visit

US president completes his visit to the Holy Land, leaving Israel with plenty to think about

President Barack Obama pauses after laying a wreath during his visit to the Hall of Remembrance at the Vad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, Friday, March 22, 2013. (photo credit: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
President Barack Obama pauses after laying a wreath during his visit to the Hall of Remembrance at the Vad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, Friday, March 22, 2013. (photo credit: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Barack Obama ended his first presidential visit to Israel and headed off to Jordan Friday, after another packed day.

He visited Mount Herzl, and the tombs of Theodor Herzl and Yitzhak Rabin — meeting with Rabin’s family — as well as the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and museum. He held a longer-than-scheduled meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, made a brief private visit to Bethlehem, and then headed to the airport for his flight to Jordan.

The Times of Israel liveblogged every minute of the day, below. (You can read our liveblogs from days one and two of the president’s visit here).

Windows for peace, and foundational myths

Preamble: Day 2 of President Barack Obama’s visit to Israel may have started on a low note, with rockets fired at southern communities from the Gaza Strip, but by afternoon things hit a crescendo — of applause, that is.

The president’s speech to an audience of largely young people in Jerusalem showcased Obama in top oratory form, assuring Israelis, in Hebrew, that they don’t stand alone, and calling on them to lift their gaze and see that “There’s an opportunity. There’s a window. Peace is possible.”

The Times of Israel’s David Horovitz called the address “the passionate speech of a left-wing Zionist,” and wrote that the president had, “deftly and subtly, unveiled a vision for Israel that all Israelis would love to realize — an Israel at peace, in a region at peace, thriving financially, admired morally, no longer at physical risk.”

On Friday, Obama is set to visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial and Mount Herzl, where the State of Israel buries its leaders and many of its wartime fallen. Those two sites, perched on adjacent hilltops, together embody Israel’s foundational myth of rising out of the charred remains of European Jewry.

Obama is also set to visit the cradle of Christianity, Bethlehem, which has seen a surge in violence in recent months. Much of those clashes have centered around the enclave of Rachel’s Tomb, whose towering cement walls The Times of Israel’s Mitch Ginsburg described as “both an aberration and a necessity.”

From Miss Israel to Mount Herzl

Obama’s schedule is as packed today as it was Wednesday and Thursday. He’s due at Mount Herzl at around 8.50. Then Yad Vashem at 9.30. By 10.50, he’s due to be meeting again with “my friend Bibi” at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem.

At 12.30, he goes to Bethlehem, for a trip that was one of the later additions to his schedule. And by 3.10 this afternoon he’s supposed to be at the airport, for what is billed as a more modest ceremony than the welcome he got 51 hours earlier.

At least last night was a relatively relaxing evening, at the state dinner Shimon Peres held in his honor. Among the 120 guests was Yityish “Titi” Aynaw, a 21-year-old from Netanya who came to Israel at age 12, and was chosen Miss Israel 2013 three weeks ago.

President Barack Obama shakes hands with Yityish Aynaw, a 21-year old Ethiopian-Israeli who won Israel's Miss Israel national beauty pageant, at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on March 21, 2013. (Photo credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO/FLASH90)

President Barack Obama shakes hands with Yityish Aynaw, a 21-year old Ethiopian-Israeli who won Israel’s Miss Israel national beauty pageant, at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on March 21, 2013. (Photo credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO/FLASH90)

Obama’s success, she said last week, had shown her that “everyone can reach the top,” no matter what their creed or skin color. Like the president, she added, she was raised without her parents, by her grandparents. The first thing she would tell him, she promised ahead of the dinner, was that he has been “a role model” and “an inspiration.” The second, she said, was that he should release spy-for-Israel Jonathan Pollard.

Roads closed throughout capital

Several Jerusalem roads are currently closed to traffic, ahead of Obama’s scheduled trip to Mt. Herzl, where he is expected to lay flowers at the graves of Theodor Herzl and Yitzhak Rabin.

Drivers are advised to avoid the following streets: King David, Gaza, Agron, Wolfson, Herzl blvd, Ruppin Bridge, and adjacent routes.

Likud’s Feiglin lashes out at Obama speech

Likud MK Moshe Feiglin, one of the most hawkish members of the prime minister’s party, lashes out at Obama on Friday, saying that the US president’s speech in Jerusalem Thursday contained “a lot of filth in the middle.”

Moshe Feiglin (photo credit: Kobi Gideon/Flash90)

Moshe Feiglin (photo credit: Kobi Gideon/Flash90)

In an interview with Channel 10 News, Feiglin praises the parts of Obama’s address that noted Israel’s history and the Jewish people’s historic connection to the land, but slammed the president’s urging for peace.

“When Obama talked about forcing us to make peace, all I could think about was baby Adele, who was injured by stone-throwing near Ariel last week.”

Security cabinet member doubts US determination to prevent nuclear Iran

Likud MK Tzachi Hanegbi, a member of the prime minister’s newly-minted security cabinet, expresses doubt this morning that the US will act to prevent a nuclear Iran.

Speaking with Israel Radio, Hanegbi says that previous US presidents had passionately declared they would prevent North Korea from obtaining nukes. At the moment of truth, he says, they refrained from taking action and the result is well-known.

Tzachi Hanegbi (photo credit: Flash90)

Likud MK Tzachi Hanegbi (photo credit: Flash90)

A stone for Theodor Herzl

The US leader is now at Mt. Herzl, the gravesite of Theodor Herzl, founder of the modern Zionist movement.

Two US servicemen in gold-braided dress uniforms are laying a wreath on Herzl’s grave, as Obama, Peres and Netanyahu stand at attention.

Obama takes a few steps forward and bows his head. He appears to be lost in contemplation. Then, in keeping with Jewish tradition, he places a small stone on the grave.

‘Humbling and inspiring’

President Barack Obama, flanked by Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres, at the grave of THeodor Herzal on Mt. Herzl, March 22 (photo credit: Channel 2 screenshot)

President Barack Obama, flanked by Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres, at the grave of Theodor Herzl on Mt. Herzl, March 22 (photo credit: Channel 2 screenshot)

Obama is spending quite some time signing the Mt. Herzl guestbook. A quick zoom in from the TV camera shows he began his rather lengthy entry by describing his visit as “humbling and inspiring.”

Israelis are still excited about yesterday’s speech. On Channel 2, one of the announcers is describing it as a “part of Zionist history,” an unprecedented address from an American leader.

Remembering Rabin

At the grave of Yitzhak Rabin, Obama is greeted by members of Rabin’s family, including his daughter Dalia, his son Yuval, and his granddaughter Noa, who captured the word’s attention after Rabin’s assassination with a speech at his funeral.

The visit to Rabin’s grave seems heavily symbolic, serving to emphasize the message from Obama’s speech: This Israel — the Israel of Rabin and Peres — is the one he wants to see, an Israel willing to take risks for peace.


The 1990s, of course, have come and gone, and the Israeli peace camp was destroyed by the second intifada in 2000. Most Israelis no longer believe that a peace agreement like the one envisioned at Oslo is possible. It remains to be seen whether Obama can help breathe life into those ideas.

Obama spends a moment beside the grave, followed by Peres, Rabin’s ally and rival, and Netanyahu, who was one of Rabin’s fiercest critics.

Afterwards, laughter, hugs and handshakes with Rabin’s children and grandchildren; Obama speaks to the bereaved about Rabin’s legacy, and the “strength” that is required to push for peace. He says he derived much of the inspiration for his speech yesterday from Rabin, and calls him “a great man.”

‘Doesn’t miss a single gesture’

Screen shot 2013-03-22 at 9.01.51 AM

“What’s incredible is that he doesn’t miss a single gesture,” says a Channel 2 commentator, watching Obama with Rabin’s family and noting how Obama placed stones on the graves of Rabin and Herzl.

The coverage of Obama continues to be adulatory; if the goal of this trip was to win over Israelis, and if TV commentators are representative of Israelis, then the visit has been a runaway success.

Obama at Yad Vashem

President Obama listens to Yad Vashem's Chairman Avner Shalev at the Holocaust memorial museum on Friday. Alongside them, former chief rabbi and Holocaust survivor Yisrael Meir Lau, Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Peres (photo credit: Channel 2 screenshot)

President Obama listens to Yad Vashem’s Chairman Avner Shalev at the Holocaust memorial museum on Friday. Alongside them, former chief rabbi and Holocaust survivor Yisrael Meir Lau, Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Peres (photo credit: Channel 2 screenshot)

Obama is now at Yad Vashem, Israel’s official Holocaust museum and memorial.

The memorial’s name comes from a verse in Isaiah (56:5). It was founded in 1953, as Israel was only beginning to grapple with what had happened in Europe.

Obama is in the Hall of Names, which aims to commemorate every Jew killed by the Nazis. The walls are lined with binders of documents and the roof is covered in photographs of victims.

Avner Shalev, the memorial’s chairman, is guiding the president at the memorial.

The Onion riffs on Obama’s speech

The satirical website The Onion has an effective riff on Obama’s speech from yesterday, imagining Israelis and Palestinians brought together to ridicule Obama’s “hopelessly naive” address.

“Following the address, sources said Israelis and Palestinians spent over two hours standing among one another, reportedly slapping each others’ backs and repeating their favorite parts of the American president’s gullible calls for both sides to negotiate and make hard choices about peace,” The Onion reported.

“Reports also confirmed that both sides exuded a hearty laugh after one of the Israelis mimicked a portion of Obama’s speech in which he described a world where ‘Jews and Muslims and Christians can live in peace and prosperity in this Holy Land.'”

Read the whole thing here.

Obama’s guestbook entry

Here’s Obama’s guestbook entry from his visit this morning to the grave site of Theodor Herzl:

“It is humbling and inspiring to visit and remember the visionary who began the remarkable establishment of the State of Israel. May our two countries possess the same vision and will to secure peace and prosperity for future generations.”


A stone from DC

The US journalist Jeffrey Goldberg, who is traveling with Obama, tweets that the stone Obama placed on Rabin’s grave this morning came from the Martin Luther King memorial in Washington.

‘Eli, Eli’

President Obama rekindles the 'eternal flame' at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum on Friday (photo credit: Channel 2 screenshot)

President Obama rekindles the ‘eternal flame’ at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum on Friday (photo credit: Channel 2 screenshot)

Obama is now at a memorial ceremony at Yad Vashem’s Hall of Remembrance, a standard feature of visits by foreign leaders.

A children’s choir — yes, another children’s choir — is performing “Eli, Eli,” the famous prayer by Hannah Szenes, who parachuted into Hungary during WWII and was captured and killed in 1944.

The Hall of Remembrance

A children's choir sings at Yad Vashem as President Obama visits (photo credit: Channel 2 screenshot)

A children’s choir sings at Yad Vashem as President Obama visits (photo credit: Channel 2 screenshot)

Obama is shaking hands with members of the children’s choir following  a cantor’s recitation of the memorial prayer “El Maleh Rachamim,” or “God, Full of Mercy.”

From the Hall of Remembrance, he filed out with his hosts and entourage en route to the nearby memorial for children killed by the Nazis. That is to be his last stop at Yad Vashem.

Obama signs (yet another) guestbook

Obama is now signing a guestbook at Yad Vashem — at least his fourth guestbook since arriving in Israel, and his second of the day. The president must have staffers working full time to come up with new earnest thoughts to write each time.

An observer might be forgiven for thinking that Netanyahu, who has been serving as Obama’s tour guide since Wednesday, is beginning to appear bored.

‘A crime unique in human history’

President Barack Obama pauses in contemplation after laying a wreath in memory of the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust, at Yad Vashem on Friday (photo credit: Channel 2 screenshot)

President Barack Obama pauses in contemplation after laying a wreath in memory of the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust, at Yad Vashem on Friday (photo credit: Channel 2 screenshot)

Obama then reads out the verse from Isaiah from which the name “Yad Vashem” is taken.

He says this is second visit to Yad Vashem, and mentions a visit to Buchenwald.

“We see how evil can, for a moment in time, triumph,” he says, calling the Holocaust “a crime unique in human history.”

He says there is no place for racism or anti-Semitism.

But after the darkness of the halls of Yad Vashem, he says, one emerges to a view of the Jerusalem forest, and “the sun shining over the historic homeland of the Jewish people.”

Lau recalls US liberators

Yisrael Meir Lau, Israel’s former chief rabbi and a Holocaust survivor, addresses Obama, recalling Jews being liberated from concentration camps by US troops in 1945.

He said the troops delivered them not just from slavery to freedom, but from death to life.

Lau says Israel appreciates Obama’s friendship and support, and expresses faith that with Obama’s help “great days” are ahead.

With that, Obama’s visit to Yad Vashem is over. He now proceeds to a final meeting with Netanyahu at the King David Hotel.

The Onion takes aim at Obama visit

The Obama visit is clearly providing inspiration to the satirists of The Onion.

One piece this morning portrays Obama as a Birthright Israel participant who has been hitting it off with a certain “Rachel Goldstein.” The pair, reports The Onion, “walked together on the sunrise hike to Mount Masada, split off entirely from the group during the Dead Sea excursion, and always sit together on the bus.”

A second Onion article pokes fun at US aid to Israel. It has Obama touring an Iron Dome battery, largely funded by the US, and jokingly asking Netanyahu how much it cost Israel.

“Sources say Obama’s sarcastic comments came after facetiously asking how much money Israel’s warplanes set them back, at which point Obama cut Netanyahu off and said, ‘I know exactly how much.'”

Deputy FM sees no veto on Iran action

With Obama en route to his meeting with Netanyahu and live coverage suspended, discussion on Channel 2 turns to Iran.

Zeev Elkin, Israel’s new deputy foreign minister, says he believes Obama’s statements make it clear that as far as the US is concerned “there is no veto” on Israeli action.

Obama’s convoy is arriving at the King David Hotel. Channel 2’s reporter notes in awe that Obama was scheduled to arrive at 10:50 a.m. local time, and actually arrived at 10:50 a.m. local time. So far, the entire visit has been on schedule and has gone off without a hitch.

At the margins of the visit, Israel’s new government

Israeli TV channels have been hosting a string of new government representatives to comment on the visit, offering most Israelis their first glimpse of the ruling coalition with which they will be left alone once the president is gone.

Yesterday, Channel 2 hosted Danny Danon, formerly considered an extreme voice from the Likud back benches — and now the deputy minister of defense.

This morning it was Zeev Elkin, known as a pro-annexation hardliner who, according to a Hebrew University study of his voting record, has opposed freedom of expression and human rights more than any other MK. Elkin is now the deputy foreign minister, following the Avigdor Liberman precedent of appointing to top Israeli diplomatic posts the people least likely to be acceptable to the international community.

After that in the Channel 2 studio came Ophir Akunis, a Netanyahu protégé who is now a deputy minister in charge of government-Knesset relations.

These voices will be more prominent than ever in the coming months and years, and they are distant from the policies Obama wants Israel to pursue. If the US is planning a push for new peace talks, the fault lines in the new coalition — which includes parties deeply divided on how to approach the Palestinian issue — will quickly become apparent.

From the King David Hotel guest book

Obama's entry in the King David Hotel guest book (Photo credit: Dror Danino)

Obama’s entry in the King David Hotel guest book (Photo credit: Dror Danino)

“Thanks for making my return to this holiest of cities so wonderful,” wrote Obama in the guest book at at the King David Hotel.

Peace talk

Obama’s visit has reignited talk of a peace agreement, though it remains to be seen whether the talk will persist for much time after he leaves this afternoon.

Omer Barlev, a new Labor Party MK, says on Channel 2 TV that if Netanyahu wants to pursue a peace agreement Labor — which refused to join the coalition — will support the government.

Yossi Beilin, the former MK and peace negotiator, says Israel must understand that while Mahmoud Abbas may not be a flawless partner, whoever follows him will be worse.

Same speech, different headlines

The front-page headlines of all three main Israeli dailies trumpet yesterday’s Obama speech, with varying ideological perspectives.

Haaretz leads with, “Obama turns to Israelis in a historic speech – Demand peace from your leaders.”

Maariv’s headline is, “Obama: The Palestinians must recognize that Israel is a Jewish state.”

Yediot Ahronot, the country’s biggest daily, chose the key phrase from Obama’s speech: “You are not alone.”

Cairo corrections, cont’d

One of the goals of Obama’s visit seems clearly to involve correcting the parts of his 2009 Cairo speech that made many Israelis unhappy. He was criticized at the time for insinuating that Israel existed because of the Holocaust, playing into a widespread belief in the Arab world that  Israel is a foreign implant in the Middle East and that the Palestinians paid the price for the crimes of Europe.

The Jewish presence in the land of Israel dates back around 3,000 years, modern Zionism predates the Holocaust by nearly a century, and there was a Jewish state-in-waiting largely in place here before WWII began.

Upon his arrival at the airport on Wednesday, Obama was quick to mention “3,000 years” of Jewish history, setting the tone for a trip that has been a whirlwind of charm directed at the Israeli public and its leaders. He repeated the point in comments at Yad Vashem on Friday.

“The state of Israel does not exist because of the Holocaust,” Obama said, “but with the survival of a strong Jewish state of Israel, such a Holocaust will never happen again.”

Correction noted.

The wind intervenes

Middle Eastern weather is complicating Obama’s travel plans: Heavy winds and clouds of dust in the air now mean he might not be able to fly as planned by helicopter from Bethlehem to the airport to board Air Force One.

This, in turn, means that the country’s most important road, the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway, is set to be closed to traffic from the early afternoon to allow Obama to proceed by convoy to Ben-Gurion International.

Heavy traffic is expected as a result in and around Jerusalem, where residents beset by days of disruptions seem to have decided that it was nice that the president came but that it would be even nicer if he left around now.

Obama is Bethlehem-bound

The president’s next stop is the West Bank city of Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity, revered by Christians as the birthplace of Jesus.

As he drives, the president will pass — and will probably not notice — one of Judaism’s holiest sites, as the TOI’s Mitch Ginsburg reports. That would be Rachel’s Tomb, currently hidden behind concrete walls to protect worshipers from Palestinian attacks.

The ancient church was built 1,500 years ago on the site of a church 200 years older than that. Three Christian sects — Catholics, Greek Orthodox and Armenians — share the building.

Last year, the church became the first monument under the control of the Palestinian Authority to be recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

In Bethlehem, not everyone overjoyed

There are small demonstrations near Bethlehem against Obama, with several dozen people, according to Channel 2. The channel’s correspondent quotes a local imam as saying in his Friday sermon that the US is “the root of all evil in the world.”

The channel’s Arab affairs expert, Ehud Yaari, says Bethlehem — once a Christian town — now has a solid Muslim majority with broad support for Hamas. The Palestinian Authority has made strenuous efforts to secure the city for the visit, he says.

There are also protests at mosques in Amman, Jordan, which is the next stop on Obama’s trip, Yaari says.

Sinai kidnapping reported

Arab affairs expert Ehud Yaari interrupts the Obama coverage on Channel 2 to pass on a report that just arrived according to which two Israeli tourists and one Belgian have been kidnapped by gunmen in Sinai.

No confirmation of the report was immediately available.

The Israel government has long recommended that Israeli citizens avoid Sinai, where jihadist groups are known to operate and where government authority — never particularly strong — has been weakened  further by the political turmoil in Egypt.

Departure ceremony pared down

Obama’s farewell ceremony at Ben-Gurion International Airport will be pared down to a small affair without press, the Prime Minister’s Office now says.

The decision was taken because of the strong winds and dust clouds that are whipping the tarmac. The weather is also disrupting Obama’s travel plans, and it now seems he will not be able to fly by helicopter as planned from Bethlehem to the airport.

Meanwhile, Obama’s meeting with Netanyahu at the King David Hotel continues more than an hour after schedule. He was supposed to be in Bethlehem 40 minutes ago, but has not yet left Jerusalem.

The reason for the delay is not known.

More on Sinai kidnapping

Israeli security officials are confirming the report of a kidnapping in Sinai, Channel 2 says.

According to the report, one Israeli and one European who crossed the Israel-Egypt border at Taba were seized by gunmen. The European is either Belgian or Norwegian, according to the report.

The Israeli government has a terror warning in effect for Sinai and citizens are strongly discouraged from going there. Most of the Israeli citizens who do cross the border are Arab.

Initial information indicates that the reportedly kidnapped Israeli is an Arab male.

More on the incident here.

Little joy in Bethlehem, Part II

After a lengthy delay, Obama’s convoy is en route to Bethlehem, two hours behind schedule.

The TOI’s Elhanan Miller reports that Palestinians in the Deheysheh refugee camp in Bethlehem are protesting against Obama’s visit to the city. One sign there reads: “No to the American-Israeli coalition. Occupation will last forever.”

The official radio station Voice of Palestine is playing nationalistic songs, with no mention of Obama, Miller reports, unlike the blanket minute-by-minute coverage in the Israeli media.

Obama in Bethlehem

Bethlehem on Friday, awaiting a belated President Obama amid a sandstorm (photo credit: Channel 2 screenshot)

Bethlehem on Friday, awaiting a belated President Obama amid a sandstorm (photo credit: Channel 2 screenshot)

After a brief ride, Obama is at the Church of the Nativity. On his way, he passed through the Israeli security barrier between Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

He met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and entered the ancient church, one of Christianity’s holiest sites.

He is set to meet Christian and Muslim clergymen.

The city’s central Manger Square, adjacent to the church, is empty except for American vehicles and security personnel.

Obama heads for airport as visit ends

After about half an hour at the Church of the Nativity, the president’s convoy has left en route to the airport.

Traffic is snarled throughout Jerusalem, and the main highway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv is closed.

At the airport, a brief farewell ceremony is planned without press coverage, and Obama will take off for Amman, Jordan, ending his first visit to Israel as president.

What were Bibi and Barack talking about?

The unexpectedly long Obama-Netanyahu meeting in Jerusalem this afternoon dealt with “regional strategic issues,” Channel 2 diplomatic correspondent Udi Segal says.

That meant primarily a discussion of Israeli security demands in a future agreement with the Palestinians, he says, such as Israel’s demand for a security presence in the Jordan Valley after any withdrawal.

The signs are that the US is planning a significant push toward a resumption of negotiations in the near future, and that this visit, now approaching its end, was undertaken with that goal in mind.

Obama at airport

The presidential convoy has arrived at the airport behind a phalanx of yellow-jacketed Israeli policemen on motorcycles.

After a brief farewell, Obama is to travel to Amman.

Barack Obama is leaving Israel after a three-day visit that aimed to win the hearts of the Israel public — and seems to have succeeded.

Obama boards Air Force One on Friday afternoon with a very different image in Israel from the one with which he arrived on Wednesday. With repeated references to Jewish history, praise for Israel’s economy and technology, a very liberal sprinkling of Hebrew, and an intense dose of his trademark charisma, Obama drew adulatory press coverage. Since Wednesday, many Israelis seem to have developed what one might find hard to resist calling a crush on Obama; within days, polls in Israel will almost certainly show a jump in his popularity here.

“I hope the Israeli people now understand that Barack Hussein Obama is not against them,” Arad Nir, Channel 2’s foreign affairs reporter, said as the president traveled to the airport.

Udi Segal, the channel’s diplomatic reporter, says Obama leaves with good ties with the new Israeli government and “more influence over what’s going on here.”

A quick bite before takeoff

Ben-Gurion Airport, as President Obama's motorcade arrives FRiday (photo credit: Channel 2 screenshot)

Ben-Gurion Airport, as President Obama’s motorcade arrives Friday (photo credit: Channel 2 screenshot)

The red carpet is on the tarmac and the stairway leading to Air Force One is ready. Within minutes, Barack Obama’s first visit to Israel as president will be over. The country’s chattering classes will need the weekend to recover from three days of non-stop Obama; the live coverage and talking in TV studios has hardly stopped since Wednesday.

Obama, Netanyahu and Peres are eating a quick lunch in a VIP room at the airport before Obama boards the presidential jet.

An unscheduled meeting

Ben-Gurion Airport, as President Obama's motorcade arrives Friday (photo credit: Channel 2 screenshot)

Ben-Gurion Airport, as President Obama’s motorcade arrives Friday (photo credit: Channel 2 screenshot)

Efrat Duvdevani, director of Shimon Peres’ office, says the current lunch meeting at Ben-Gurion Airport was not scheduled, and is aimed at covering last-minute topics that the leaders did not manage to discuss earlier.

She is telling Channel 2 that there was a genuine atmosphere of friendship during the visit, and especially at the dinner held yesterday at the President’s Residence.

Please fasten your seatbelts…

Flanked by Netanyahu and Peres, Obama is heading up the red carpet toward the plane. Everyone’s clothes are flapping in the wind.

There is some last-minute jocular hand-shaking and shoulder-clasping with a row of officials, including Netanyahu’s security adviser Yaakov Amidror. Speaking to Amidror, Obama repeats the Ben-Gurion quote he referenced during his speech yesterday — that in Israel realism requires believing in miracles. (Ben-Gurion, it is worth pointing out, was an ultra-realist who believed in people, not miracles.)

He embraces Ambassador Dan Shapiro, his wife and children. To one child whose front teeth have fallen out, Obama says, “Do you have to eat with a straw?”

Speaking to Netanyahu, he says, “The embassy staff love this country.”

Final goodbyes…

President Barack Obama waves farewell as he leaves Israel on Friday (photo credit: Channel 2 screenshot)

President Barack Obama waves farewell as he leaves Israel on Friday (photo credit: Channel 2 screenshot)

A blast of trumpets from an IDF honor guard, and a seemingly heartfelt, hand-clasping exchange between Obama and Netanyahu — genuine or not, it is the most dramatic visible result of this visit.

Obama then jogs up the stairs, waves with a broad grin, and enters Air Force One.

“We have a friend in the White House,” Channel 2’s Dana Weiss announces as Obama disappears.

Air Force 1 departs, ending Obama’s visit

While the plane is still taxiing, a commentator on Channel 2 says that Obama is gone and Israelis are now left with the same problems — the Palestinians, Iran.

There is, however, one happy piece of news: Israel’s national soccer team is leading that of Portugal, quite unexpectedly, 3-2 well into the second half. For many in Israel, this game was more important than Obama’s visit.

The TV stations have resumed their usual coverage, and traffic is returning to normal.

Phew, so that was the president of the United States! On a fifty-two-hour visit, as it turned out — an hour or so late taking off.

It’s almost Shabbat here in Jerusalem, as Obama makes the brief flight to Amman. A good moment to close this liveblog. Thanks for sharing this first Obama presidential visit to Israel with us here at the Times of Israel. Shabbat shalom.

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