Before President Obama left Washington his staff made it clear that he would not be bringing a new peace plan with him.
When Air Force One landed at Tel Aviv airport, the president said he had come to Jerusalem and Ramallah to listen to Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
But on his second afternoon, in a set piece speech to young Israelis in Jerusalem’s main conference centre, he laid out where he believed both Israel and the Palestinians should be going.
The only good future for both peoples, President Obama said, had to include an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. His young Israeli audience clapped enthusiastically.
The continued expansion of Jewish settlements in the occupied territories that the Palestinians want for their state was, he said, counterproductive to the cause of peace, and Israelis had to realise that.
An independent Palestine would, the President said, have to be “viable”. That word rules out the limited autonomy suggested by some members of Mr Netanyahu’s government, enclaves that Palestinians refer to as “bantustans”.
He asked his audience to put themselves in the shoes of a Palestinian child, growing up without a state, living in the presence of a foreign army controlling the movements of their parents.
It is not fair, he said, when violence by Jewish settlers against Palestinians goes unpunished, when Palestinian farmers cannot work their lands, when Palestinians are displaced from the homes.
And the Israeli audience, not all of them but very many, applauded loudly again. It was classic Obama, reminiscent of his first run for President, when he used his skill with words to create a mood.
Polls show Israelis want peace via Palestinian independence, but don’t believe it can happen. President Obama tried to make them believe.
He did some straight talking. The calculation appears to be that frank words about what would be needed for peace was possible because he had worked hard to establish his credentials as Israel’s friend.
Throughout his time here he has praised Israel’s achievements to the skies.
The President paid tribute to Jewish history in this part of the world by viewing the Dead Sea Scrolls, and by praising Israel’s modern hi-tech economy.
He reminded Israelis of the depth and scale of the military and intelligence co-operation between the two allies, of the money the US paid for the development of Iron Dome, the missile that can shoot down rockets fired from Gaza that right now is the most popular weapons system in the country.
And he pledged, once again, that he would never allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon.
Mr Obama has even tried to seem matey with Mr Netanyahu, not easy when their previous fallings-out have been so public, and a little awkward because of the president’s somewhat professorial manner.
At Tel Aviv airport President Obama took off his jacket and strolled in the sun. Next to him Mr Netanyahu took a quick glance and did the same.
Nothing was to be allowed to come between them. They even wore almost identical white shirts and blue ties. – BBC