President Barack Obama shakes hands with Israeli children alongside Israeli President Shimon Peres upon Obama's arrival at the leader's residence in Jerusalem on March 20, 2013. Obama arrived in Israel for the first time as president, hoping to ease past tensions with his hosts and under pressure to narrow differences over handling Iran's nuclear threat. (Getty Images)
President Barack Obama vowed unwavering support for Israel and declared that "peace must come to the Holy Land."
In his first trip to the Jewish state as president, Obama called the visit "an opportunity to reaffirm the unbreakable bonds between our nations" and to "restate America’s unwavering commitment to Israel’s security."
"The United States is proud to stand with you as your strongest ally and your greatest friend," Obama said at a welcoming ceremony in Tel Aviv Wednesday afternoon. "The United States of America stands with the state of Israel because it is in our fundamental national security interest to stand with Israel. It makes us both stronger. It makes us both more prosperous. And it makes the world a better place."
The president has faced criticism for the mostly symbolic visit, which lacks any meaningful policy agenda. One Israeli columnist described it a "mystery" and the New York Times' Thomas Friedman said Obama "could be the first sitting American president to visit Israel as a tourist."
After a first term filled with sometimes tense and frosty relations with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Obama accepted praise from the Israeli leader.
"Thank you for standing by Israel at this time of historic change in the Middle East," Netanyahu said. "Thank you for unequivocally affirming Israel's sovereign right to defend itself by itself against any threat."
Obama is set to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank and head to Jordan before returning to Washington on Saturday.