President Barack Obama is on the second day of his visit to Israel, the fifth serving US president to make the trip. He’s been in Jerusalem since early Wednesday afternoon — after a warm, relaxed, airport welcome — meeting with Shimon Peres, and talking late into the night with Benjamin Netanyahu.

Today’s itinerary began with a visit to the Israel Museum — to see the Dead Sea Scrolls and some trailblazing Israeli innovations — and continued with talks with the Palestinians in Ramallah. We liveblogged all that here. (Yesterday’s liveblogs, from day one of the visit, are here.)

Now Obama is back in Jerusalem for the rest of the day, and you can follow him minute-by-minute in our current liveblog.

Tight security ahead of Obama visit to Israel Museum

Preamble: US President Barack Obama is preparing to visit the Israel Museum’s Shrine of the Book to view the Dead Sea Scrolls before heading off to Ramallah for a meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Though the museum tour won’t take place until 9 a.m., by 6:30 in the morning, the route between the King David Hotel and the museum was already packed with hundreds of police awaiting the motorcade.

In Ramallah, Obama will likely face a tougher crowd than in Jerusalem, meeting with a simmering Palestinian Authority, frustrated by a seemingly intractable stagnation in the peace process, and on the verge of bankruptcy. After that he’ll return to Israel for a key address to a mostly young crowd at the International Convention Center.

Read our earlier liveblog here, including Obama’s press conference with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and a tree scandal whose roots never quite took hold.

Rocket hits yard in Sderot, breaking southern calm

Red alert sirens ring out in Sderot and the Sha’ar Hanegev region. Two Kassam rockets have been fired, possibly signaling a welcome message for Obama from Hamas.

One rocket hit a house’s courtyard in Sderot. There are no reports of injuries.

The south has been almost completely quiet since November’s Operation Pillar of Defense, but terrorists in Gaza have shown a willingness to fire missiles when they think the situation warrants it, like a rocket that hit Ashdod last month during protests in the West Bank.

The rockets come a day after Obama visited an Iron Dome battery moved especially to the airport for a photo op. The missile defense system was partially funded by the US.

Activists climb J’lem bridge to protest Arctic drilling

A group of Greenpeace activists, using the opportunity of President Obama’s visit, have climbed the Bridge of Strings in Jerusalem to protest US oil exploration in the Arctic Circle and to call on the president to take action against climate change.

Reportedly police detained a handful of activists on the ground, but at least five eluded the cops and were able to climb the structure, a specially designed suspension bridge that runs over the main entrance to Jerusalem.

A Greenpeace activist on the Bridge of Strings in Jerusalem on Thursday. (Screenshot: Channel 2)

A Greenpeace activist on the Bridge of Strings in Jerusalem on Thursday. (Screenshot: Channel 2)

Obama to get techie tour at Israel Museum

Barack Obama won’t only be checking out history at the Israel Museum today. As David Shamah reported earlier this week, seven of Israel’s most important contributions to technology — chosen by a committee of government and tech leaders — will be presented to Obama in the context of the museum’s “Israeli Technology for a Better World” exhibit. After touring the the exhibit, Obama will be introduced to the three young Israelis who won a robotics contest last year with their Robowaiter, a special robot “butler” designed to help the disabled.

Among the innovations presented to Obama will be an aluminum-air battery, a road safety alert system, a robotic snake, and a computer that can be controlled with the mind.

‘Rockets a message to Obama’

Update on the rockets: Reports now indicate four were fired at Israel, with one hitting the courtyard of a home in Sderot. Another rocket hit an open area and two landed inside Gaza near the fence with Israel.

There were no reports of injuries. Sderot Mayor David Buskilla called the rockets a message to Obama from Gaza, and said he hoped the barrage would be a one-time event.

Waiting for Obama

Benjamin Netanyahu is loitering around the Israel Museum, sitting on a wall at the Shrine of the Book — temperature-controlled to protect the precious Dead Sea Scrolls within — and biding his time with hundreds of other staffers and secret service agents until Barack Obama arrives, scheduled for 9:10 a.m. The president is a little late

Netanyahu cooling his heels outside the Shrine of the Book. (Screenshot: Channel 2)

Netanyahu cooling his heels outside the Shrine of the Book. (Screenshot: Channel 2)

Despite the warm weather, Netanyahu has decided to leave his jacket on this time.

Hundreds of people line the streets in Jerusalem to watch Obama’s motorcade go by on the way to the museum, and traffic jams are being reported all over the capital becuase of the disruptions.

Obama should see how we live in Sderot, says mother whose house was damaged by rocket this morning

A woman whose home was slightly damaged by Gaza rocket fire in Sderot this morning has been on Army Radio. “Obama should come and see how we live here,” says Sara Hazizu. “We live in nice homes, but that means nothing. Really, we live in our security rooms. He should see how our 8-year-old daughter has to dash for the safety of the security room [when the rocket alarms go off].”

Security sources in Jerusalem agree that the rocket fire was “a message timed for Obama’s visit to show they’re still there” — hours before Obama goes to Ramallah. The sources do not believe Hamas was responsible. They think it’s unlikely Israel will respond, certainly not while Obama is here.

Obama visits the Dead Sea Scrolls

The president arrives at the Museum, and is welcomed by Netanyahu, and by Israel Museum director James Snyder. He is taken into the Shrine of the Book to see the Dead Sea Scrolls. He’s to be shown a scroll of the Book of Isaiah — but apparently won’t be allowed to touch it. No, not even the president.

Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu in the Shrine of the Book. (photo credit: Amos Ben Gershom/GPO/Flash90)

Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu in the Shrine of the Book. (photo credit: Amos Ben Gershom/GPO/Flash90)

Snyder is giving Obama, Netanyahu and negotiator Yitzhak Molcho, who heads the museum board, a tour of the Shrine, which he says is the only permanent building constructed with its unique design.

True to his promise, Obama is spending most of his time listening as he views fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Obama asked for a coin, and Molcho had to ask somebody else for some shekels for Obama to throw in a wishing well at the site.

A history lesson for Obama

Obama and Israel Museum director James Snyder are discussing how remarkable it is that the Dead Sea Scrolls were preserved in such good condition. Earlier, Netanyahu read a passage from the complete scroll of the Book of Isaiah, the centerpiece of the Shrine of the Book display.

Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu at the Shrine of the Book (Photo credit: Amos Ben Gershom/GPO/Flash90)

Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu at the Shrine of the Book (Photo credit: Amos Ben Gershom/GPO/Flash90)

Obama is listening attentively while Netanyahu and Snyder explain more details about the scrolls. Looks like the visit is about to wrap up.

IDF won’t respond to rocket fire — report

The IDF is not expected to fire back on Gaza in response to this morning’s rockets on the south during Obama’s visit, Haaretz reports, citing unnamed senior diplomatic officials. “The Israeli response will come at the right time and place,” one source is quoted as saying.

The Shrine of the Book’s other book

Snyder, the Israel museum’s director, showing Obama around the Shrine of the Book, points downstairs to the gallery with the Aleppo Codex — Judaism’s most important manuscript, considered the most accurate copy of the Bible in Hebrew. The 1,100-year-old codex is generally overshadowed by the more famous Dead Sea Scrolls, which are 2,000 years old and the celebrities of the ancient Hebrew manuscript world. As far as Judaism is concerned, however, the codex is the more important, because it includes the most perfect version of the divine word.

The codex, written in Tiberias around 930 CE, was moved to Jerusalem, stolen by Crusaders, ransomed by Jews in Cairo, and guarded in a synagogue in Aleppo, Syria, for 600 years before it was smuggled to Israel in mysterious circumstances in the 1950s. It has been in the museum since 1986.

Another private concert for the president

Renowned cantor Dudu Fisher serenades Obama with a possibly impromptu “Oseh Shalom” — “Make Peace…” on the way out of the Shrine of the Book. Fisher, the son of Holocaust survivors, is one of Israel’s foremost Ashkenazi-style religious singers and a noted stage performer.

Tour goes high-tech as Obama is shown Israeli innovation

The tour moves on to a special showcase for Israeli high-tech innovation, set up on the Israel Museum grounds. First up looks is the Phinergy aluminum-air battery for electric vehicles, which can triple the range of all-electric cars with an innovative new battery design.

Netanyahu: That could change a few things.

Obama: Absolutely. “You need to talk to the board of GM.”

Obama says he’s read about the next display, the Technion’s Robotic Snake, which can can survey disaster areas that humans or conventional robots are unable to access, looking for signs of life under earthquake rubble, for instance. He’s invited to hold the snake, to feel its weight. “My wife would not like this,” he says, as the metallic device rears up. He’s shown the snake’s capacity to roll, and even to divide itself into two, and head off in different directions. On a screen, he sees a surgical version of the snake — “This goes into the body,” Netanyahu chimes in — used in micro-surgery.

Obama is taking a long time in this part of the trip, falling some way behind schedule. Ramallah may have to wait a little.

Tech tour continues with brain waves, students and… Shimon Peres!

Explaining Brain Network Technology to the president (photo credit: screen capture Channel 10)

Explaining Brain Network Technology to the president (photo credit: screen capture Channel 10)

The tour continues with a display from Brain Network Technology’s program, developed in conjunction with Ben Gurion University of the Negev, which allows noninvasive monitoring of brain functionality.

President Shimon Peres arrives on the scene, apparently unexpectedly, and participates in a meeting, along with the president and Netanyahu, with star students in the high-tech field. Peres showcases an initiative designed to enable Israeli Arab engineers and other academics, “many of them unemployed,” he says, to get involved in Israeli high-tech. “It’s inspiring,” says Obama.

Next up, the MinDesktop, which allows brainwaves to control a standard computer operation system without the need of a mouse or keyboard. Designed to help the handicapped, the system was developed by three graduate students using off-the shelf parts. Netanyahu and Obama muse on how effectively this would work for them. “Our thoughts aren’t that sophisticated,” Obama pronounces.

US flags torched in Bethlehem

Israel Radio reports that last night Palestinians burned United States flags that were hung from electric poles in Bethlehem ahead of Obama’s visit to the town on Friday. Obama is scheduled to visit the Church of the Nativity, the legendary birthplace of Jesus.

The future is here with exoskeleton legs

The president is shown ReWalk, an exoskeleton suit with motorized legs that can be used by paraplegics to walk, climb stairs, run and move around. Obama hugs a woman wearing a sample exoskeleton after she explains how participating in a pilot program has changed her life.

The president seems genuinely interested in the technology and is asking a lot of questions. Now he is seeing an example of ReWalk in action as two people, who are paralyzed from the waist down, walk around the display area.

“That’s very inspiring,” Obama says and he moves on to the next exhibit.

‘Robo-Waiter’ serves matza to the president

The president is shown the Robo-Waiter, developed by three junior high students from Haifa. The small humanoid robot has arms and an extension to grab items, and is equipped with sensors, cameras and software that allows it to “hear” commands.

Obama and Netanyahu are served matza by the robot before moving on. “That’s good matza,” Obama tells the trio. “That’s wonderful.”

He’s photographed with them, and then with more Israel Museum personnel as he finally moves out of the exhibit. It was notable how many of the chosen exhibits are focused on helping the disabled. Notable, too, how many questions the president asked, how long he lingered at each exhibit.

Now, though, he’s leaving the museum. Next stop Ramallah.

Humorists poke fun at Obama overcoverage

Some online jokesters have noticed all the liveblogging and wall to wall coverage of Obama’s visit, publishing a “screenshot” from Channel 2 news showing coverage of Obama taking care of nature’s call, which is making the rounds on Facebook.

Fake screen capture of President Obama's visit to Israel.

Fake screen capture of President Obama’s visit to Israel.

The crawl text reads that Obama is in the bathroom, notes that they aren’t sure what’s going on in there and reports that his last meal was hummus and Turkish salad.

As members of the fourth estate, we can safely say that we haven’t gotten to that point, yet.

Obama heads to Ramallah, amid talk of steps toward new peace talks

The president is now on his way to Ramallah, for talks with Mahmoud Abbas.

“Don’t eat too much in Ramallah,” Peres urged him just now at the Israel Museum. As in, save some room for the state dinner tonight.

Channel 10 is reporting that Abbas is no longer going to be formally demanding a settlement freeze as a precondition for resumed peace talks, quoting a New York Times report to that effect.

Certainly, thinking is in Israel, Obama would not be sending Secretary of State John Kerry on a hopeless mission to re-energize the peace process. (Kerry is coming back here Saturday night after accompanying Obama to Jordan.) Obama must believe that substantive progress is possible. Hebrew newspaper coverage here this morning is full of analysis about how Obama is charming Israel — but not to be fooled, he’s “softening us up,” as a Yedioth Ahronoth analysis has it, for the pressure to come.

Word is that Obama will mention this morning’s rocket fire on the south during his public comments in Ramallah.

ToI’s Elhanan Miller in Ramallah reports: “Plenty of people out on the streets awaiting Obama. Not an American flag in sight.”

‘Go home you devil,’ protesters in Ramallah shout

As Obama lands in Ramallah, the city’s central Al-Manara square has filled with 200-300 angry protesters demonstrating against the US president’s visit. Many are shouting slogans such as, “We don’t want anything peaceful, only bullets and missiles,” and, “Go home you devil, we don’t want to see Americans here,” Times of Israel correspondent Elhanan Miller reports.

Many protesters are holding up signs calling for Palestinian prisoners to be released, including Fathiya Ajaji, whose son Ahmed is in jail in the US for involvement in the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993.

“He didn’t do anything wrong,” she said.

Most of the parties represented at the rally are leftist Palestinian factions.

Abbas welcomes Obama with honor guard, anthems

The president has touched down in Ramallah, where he’s greeted by Abbas.

Anthems are played. The two inspect an honor guard, fairly briefly. Obama is introduced to PA officials, including Salam Fayyad, the prime minister and negotiator Saeb Erekat, and to religious and military figures. Among them, the heads of US-trained security forces.

Abbas is introduced to Obama’s delegation, including Kerry.

This is all far more perfunctory than the Ben-Gurion Airport festivities yesterday. The footage of this section of the visit is being supervised by the PA, and the TV director lingers long on flagpoles at the Mukata flying Palestinian and American flags, fluttering in the breeze.

Channel 10’s Emanuel Rosen says Kerry is “dead serious” about making progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front, and that “everyone is saying they haven’t felt anything like this for years.” Rosen said earlier that Netanyahu might be prepared to sanction an unannounced settlement freeze — just to quietly halt settlement expansion — to enable a new attempt at negotiation.

Obama and Abbas have now begun their direct talks.

Analysts: Once Obama leaves, Kerry will start intensive work

While Obama and Abbas talk, Israeli politicians and analysts are weighing in.

Nabil Sha’ath, the former PA foreign minister and negotiator, is speaking of this as “a decisive year” for the Palestinians, Channel 2 says.

“They’ve been saying that since Sadat in the 1970s,” says Ehud Ya’ari, the Arab affairs analyst. “But there’s some truth in this, nonetheless,” he says. Fact is, the Palestinians “are running away from statehood,” he adds. There’s no great enthusiasm for setting borders with Israel, he says.

Deputy Minister Ofir Akunis (Likud) recalls that Abbas left the last attempt at peace talks, in September 2010, “after minutes.”

Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon (Likud) says the rocket fire from Gaza this morning was a message to Obama and Abbas from Hamas: “You can talk… but we don’t want peace.”

Danon also says the real substance of this visit will come after Obama leaves, when the Kerry-led diplomatic effort gets into gear.

Akunis: I’d like to hear condemnation from Abbas of the rocket fire.

Hilik Bar (Labor) says we should stop blaming Obama and Abbas for the lack of diplomatic progress. “When was the last time we looked in the mirror… The Americans have despaired of us.” They look at this new rightist government, with Ze’ev Elkin, deputy minister at the Foreign Ministry, and Uri Ariel, at the Housing Ministry, and they see no hope of progress, he says.

Abbas talking points leaked to NYT

A leaked draft of talking points Mahmoud Abbas intends to bring up with US President Barack Obama includes support for a secret freeze on settlements, the New York Times reports.

The report points to a softening of the Palestinian Authority’s demands as preconditions for returning to the negotiating table.

They also include pleas for Benjamin Netanyahu to commit to the 1967 lines as a starting point in peace talks and a suggestion by Abbas that he will dissolve the PA if progress is not made.

“I am not threatening, I am sharing a fact with you,” Abbas will tell Obama according to the memo. “If this situation continues I will be forced to ask Prime Minister Netenyahoo[sic] to resume his responsibilities.”

The Golan precedent

Israel politicians and pundits are discussing the prospects of peace on Channel 2 TV. Ofir Akunis, a Likud deputy Cabinet minister and a Netanyahu protégé, points out that for years the US pressed Israel to sign a peace agreement with Hafez Assad and to return the Golan Heights.

Had Israel done so, he suggested, the results right now — with Syria disintegrating and jihadist groups along the border — would have been disastrous.

Akunis said, however, that the new Israeli government is willing to negotiate with the Palestinians beginning “on Sunday morning.”

Chocolate swag for Obama

Chocolate sculpture of US President Barack Obama created by Holon Institute of Technology students. (photo credit: courtesy HIT)

Chocolate sculpture of US President Barack Obama created by Holon Institute of Technology students. (photo credit: courtesy HIT)

Among the many items President Obama will take home with him from the Holy Land will be this chocolate sculpture, a recreation of a famous image from the president’s 2008 campaign.

Crafted by a group of 16 students in a chocolate sculpture course at the Holon Institute of Technology, the edible creation is to be presented to Obama later today in Jerusalem.


Footage from Ramallah shows Abbas presenting the US president with a drawing of his face alongside that of Abraham Lincoln.

Obama looked at the picture, grinned as he posed with it for a photographer, then handed it off to an aide.

Hamas leader says ‘American policies perpetuate the Israeli occupation’

Ahead of the Abbas-Obama joint press conference, Hamas in Gaza head Ismail Haniyeh gives the American president a vote of no confidence.

“We believe American policies perpetuate the Israeli occupation and settlements in Palestine under a slogan of peace,” he said, according to a report in the Palestinian Ma’an news agency.

Earlier in the day, four rockets were fired from Gaza at Israel, breaking a fragile calm in the south, in what was thought to be an attack timed to coincide with Obama’s visit.

An interim arrangement

Israel’s most prominent Arab affairs analyst, Ehud Yaari, makes his personal view of how to best manage the conflict with the Palestinians unusually clear on Channel 2’s ongoing experts panel. Talk of an agreement with the Palestinians, which has been dormant in Israel for quite some time, has been revived by the Obama visit, and the prospect of renewed talks is very much in the air.

No all-encompassing peace deal is possible at this time, and in its stead Israel should pursue an interim deal that would see Israel pull out of most of the West Bank, Yaari says.

Israel could get this move recognized by the US and the UN Security Council, he says, and it would mark the end of the occupation of the West Bank, which he calls the “monkey on our back.” A full deal would be left for a later date.

Not all smiles for Obama

A Palestinian man protests the Obama visit in Ramallah (Photo credit: Elhanan Miller/Times of Israel)

A Palestinian man protests the Obama visit in Ramallah (Photo credit: Elhanan Miller/Times of Israel)

Hundreds of Palestinians protested the Obama visit in Ramallah, as the US leader met with Abbas.

Abbas, Obama speak to press

The Obama-Abbas press conference is commencing.

Abbas mentions the Nakba, and says the Palestinians are giving an “exemplary model” of state-building despite their challenges. They want the “rights of independence, freedom and peace.”

Says Palestinians want a state in the 1967 lines, with its capital in Jerusalem.

Peacemaking requires “courage,” he says.

“Peace should not be made through violence, occupation, settlements, arrests, siege”, and the denial of the rights of refugees.

Then he says he welcomes Obama. He said talks were “good and useful.”

Abbas: Palestinians are committed to peace

Abbas asserts that Palestinians “are ready to implement all our commitments and obligations” and to respect signed agreements. They want a two-state solution, “Palestine and Israel.”

He says unity between Hamas and Fatah is key to peace.

He thanks Obama for US support for Palestinians — for the treasury, development projects, and the UN refugee agency.

Obama urges independent, sovereign Palestine

Obama says the US is “deeply committed” to the establishment “of an independent and sovereign state of Palestine.”

Obama says Palestinians deserve an end to occupation and the indignities that come with it, and deserve freedom of movement. Like people anywhere, he says, Palestinians deserve a future of hope.

“Put simply,” he says, “Palestinians deserve a state of their own.”

He reminds listeners that the US is the Palestinians’ biggest donor.

He notes new construction in Ramallah since his last visit five years ago. He says the Palestinian Authority is more “transparent,” and its security forces are “stronger.”

He notes misery in Gaza, saying it is “because Hamas refuses to renounce violence… because too often it focuses on tearing Israel down than building Palestine up.”

He condemns the rocket fire, and says it was a “violation that Hamas had a responsibility to prevent.”

‘No shortcut’ to peace, Obama says

Obama says the US wants an “independent, viable and contiguous Palestinian state as the homeland of the Palestinian people, alongside the Jewish state of Israel.”

He calls for direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. “There is no shortcut to a sustainable solution.”

He notes ongoing settlement construction, Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, and restrictions on reaching holy places, and says he understands Palestinian frustration.

He promises that Kerry will work hard to “close the gap” between Israelis and Palestinians, and says new ideas will be necessary.

Change can happen anywhere

Obama says young Palestinians and Israelis remind him of his daughters.

“There was a time when my daughters could not expect to have the same opportunites in their own country as someone else’s daughters,” he says.

If change can happen in the US, he says, change can happen here too.

Palestinians can’t expect preconditions

Answering questions, Obama says everyone knows what is necessary for peace, but has trouble acknowledging the compromises that will be necessary.

“If we can get direct negotiations started again, I believe the shape of a potential deal is there,” he says.

He says he has “been clear” with Netanyahu that US policy has long been that settlement activity is not “constructive” or “appropriate,” or “something that can advance the cause of peace.”

He says, however, that Israeli politics are “complex,” and that this is “not an issue that will be solved overnight.”

In what marks his most significant comment so far, Obama suggests Palestinians cannot expect to have Israelis agree to their conditions before talks start. This appears to be a change from the US and Palestinian demand during the first Obama administration that Israel freeze settlement construction as a precondition for talks.

Obama: Stop arguing about how to start talks

Obama is coming out again against preconditions, a striking reversal from his policy in the first term. He says the sides have to stop arguing about what is necessary to even start negotiating.

“That is not to say that settlements are not important,” he says — but if core issues are solved, the settlements will also be solved.

He warns against incremental steps that will delay resolution of issues, rather than incremental steps that will build confidence. Those, he says, could lead to “four more years, ten more years, twenty more years” of conflict.

Abbas: Settlements erode faith in peace

Abbas says the world recognizes that Israeli settlements are illegal.

Many Palestinians, he says, see settlements across the West Bank and “do not trust the two-state solution anymore.” Young people conclude that an agreement is no longer possible.

But the Palestinian leadership does support that solution, on the 1967 lines, he says.

If Israel makes peace with the Palestinians, he says, it will have peace with the whole Arab and Islamic world.

With that, the two leaders leave the stage.

Palestinian politician slams Obama for withdrawing call for settlement freeze

Palestinian politician Mustafa Barghouti is criticizing Obama for saying a settlement freeze is not a precondition for talks.

Talking to the BBC, he says there should be an “immediate freeze of this cancer that is eating the two-state solution,” meaning the settlements.

He also says the current Israeli government is the “most racist and most extreme in the history of Israel.”

Headed back for the big speech

President Obama is now shaking the hands of a few more people in Ramallah as he boards his Black Hawk helicopter for the flight back to Jerusalem.

Obama’s next scheduled public activity is the major speech of his visit, set for 4:40 p.m. in front of a diverse crowd of Israelis at Jerusalem’s International Convention Center. That’s over two hours from now, giving the president some prep time before what is sure to be a heavily scrutinized event.

Dov Weisglass, Ariel Sharon’s former top adviser, tells Channel 2 TV that while Netanyahu declared his support for a two-state solution loud and clear yesterday, the facts on the ground point in the opposite direction, and within 20 years it will be too late. Palestinian statehood would require Israel to relinquish most of the territories, Weissglass says, and Netanyahu either doesn’t want to do that, can’t do that, “or maybe both.”

Obama meets US diplomatic staff

Having finished his visit to Ramallah, Obama is back in Jerusalem — meeting with consular staff at the US consulate in the south Jerusalem neighborhood of Arnona.

The event is hosted by Secretary of State John Kerry, and is closed to press.

Students eagerly wait for president’s speech

The International Convention Center, where Obama will address Israeli students later this afternoon, is 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.

“To be honest, I don’t expect that anything important will be said,” says Bnei Zion resident Dan Offer, 24, who studies neurosciences at the Hebrew University. “I’m just here to hear him because he’s a great orator. But I have absolutely no expectations that anything will change on the geopolitical level.”

Hundreds of students wait outside the International Convention Center for US President Barack Obama's speech (photo credit: Times of Israel staff)

Hundreds of students wait outside the International Convention Center for US President Barack Obama’s speech (photo credit: Times of Israel staff)

Pninit, 24, studies at Haifa University and says she’s “pretty excited” about the speech she is about to witness, but truth be told, she does not know what to expect. “Maybe he’ll talk about why he came and what he wants for the future,” she says. Perhaps he’ll call on Israel to adapt the 2002 Saudi peace plan.

M., 22, a Haredi Jew who studies Torah in a yeshiva in the mornings and psychology and philosophy at the Open University in the afternoons, is keen on hearing what the leader of the free world has to say. “It will certainly be a historic speech. He’s a fascinating person and it will be very interesting to hear him speak.”

Will Obama try to pressure Israel to make painful concessions to restart the peace process? M., who lives in Netanya, is not sure. “He will certainly have some kind of message to the Israeli people. He didn’t come here for nothing. But if he’ll want to put pressure on us because of the Palestinians, he’ll do it elegantly and with lots of grace.”

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