Barack Obama has arrived in Tel Aviv for his first trip to Israel as US president.
After landing in Tel Aviv, BarackObama also referred to the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process, saying “peace must come to the Holy Land”.
US officials have tried to lower expectations of any significant headway on restarting the peace process.
Syria, and Iran’s nuclear ambitions are expected to loom large in talks.
Correspondents say Israelis are more preoccupied with instability in the wider Middle East region than with breathing new life into the peace process, which broke down in 2010 amid a dispute over continued Israeli settlement construction.
Settlement supporters are a big force in Israel’s new coalition government.
Barack Obama was welcomed at Ben Gurion airport by Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel’s President Shimon Peres.
After being introduced to Israeli ministers and dignitaries, Barack Obama said the US would “never lose sight of an Israel at peace with its neighbors”.
The US president added: “The United States stands with Israel because it is in our fundamental security interests to stand with Israel. Our alliance is eternal. It is forever.”
PM Benjamin Netanyahu said: “Thank you for defending Israel’s right to unequivocally defend its right to exist.”
Barack Obama is due to hold separate talks with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during his three-day visit.
In the US, Barack Obama has been criticized for not having visited Israel in his first term as president, with some saying it shows he is not close enough to the country.
That is despite his administration’s repeated assertion that the two countries share an “unbreakable alliance”.
Thousands of Israeli and Palestinian security officers have been assembled in Jerusalem and the Palestinians’ de facto capital in the West Bank city of Ramallah, ahead of his trip.
The state of the economy and social issues dominated Israel’s last election, and Barack Obama has said he is not going to the region bearing any grand peace plan.
Barack Obama’s relationship with Benjamin Netanyahu has been notoriously frosty and one recent opinion poll suggested a mere 10% of the Israeli public had a favorable opinion of the US president.
The main event of this trip is a speech to the Israeli people – Barack Obama’s main task is to build bridges and improve his image, which could give him more leverage over the new Israeli government.
Yesterday, Palestinian protesters gathered in Ramallah and Bethlehem, some throwing shoes at images of Barack Obama and others driving over his portrait, reports said.
Demonstrator Huwaida Arraf told Reuters news agency that Barack Obama’s visit was “a slap in the face”.
“People are angry and disappointed that this far into his presidency, Obama has done nothing, and aid to Israel’s occupation continues to flow,” he said.
Meanwhile, Israeli demonstrators gathered in Jerusalem to demand barack Obama free Jonathan Pollard, imprisoned in the US in 1987 for spying for Israel.
Barack Obama’s three-day visit to Israel:
- Wednesday: Meets PM Benjamin Netanyahu
- Thursday: Meets Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas
- Friday: Visits Bethlehem’s Church of Nativity and later departs for Jordan