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Pessimism greets Obama as he heads to Israel

President Obama leaves for his visit to Israel Photo: RTV

Barack Obama was a first term President who famously travelled in "hope."

Today he starts the first overseas trip of his second term in a land where it is in perilously short supply.

This is a visit already destined to be dominated by Israel’s security fears; sharpened now by the claim and counter-claim over the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

Israel watches the disintegration of its neighbour with mounting horror; worried that weapons, conventional and unconventional, will find their way to the pro-Assad Hezbollah fighters or militant Islamist rebels; on opposing sides Syria, united in their enmity to Israel.

Add to that the long-running and often articulated concern of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about Iran’s nuclear programme, and Obama has great deal of re-assurance to give.

Barack Obama welcomed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House last March Credit: Ron Sachs/DPA/Press Association Images

His visit has been called a heart and minds exercise; and the President will exude warm words to woo those many Israelis who suspect he is not quite as committed as he should be to their cause.

In Jerusalem’s main shopping streets we found little excitement about his visit."Obama, we think is a too pro-Arab," Johanan Cinnamon told me over coffee. "It’s like he wants to push us into a cage to live with lions. They’ll eat us."

Meanwhile, among Palestinians there happens to be a president whose approach is creating quite a buzz of expectation.

With apologies to the White House - it is not Barack Obama.

Indeed, we do not yet know his or her name at all.

What is being eagerly awaited is the winner of the latest reality TV show to air here.

Called simply, The President, this is a search among the youth of the West Bank and Gaza for a candidate with the skills and charisma to lead a people still in search of their own state.We spent time with some of the 1,000-plus hopefuls at a recording in Bethlehem at the weekend.

You quickly discover an irony.

For many, President Obama’s rise from underdog to Oval Office is an inspiration for their own ambitions.

But when it comes to helping realise their ambition for a Palestinian state, then they have more or less given up on him.

Bashar Falashat is a 26-year-old business studies graduate from Hebron.

"Not all Palestinians welcome Obama," he tells me. "Half see his visit as just a tourism trip. We need him to see the reality, to see how we are suffering, but most Palestinians believe that he will not change anything."

On the face of it; that is good news for Aviela Dietch, a mother of three, and someone with just as little trust in Obama.

"I don’t find that it is his place to tell us what to do here," she says.

Born in Milwakee, Dietch is one of the 300,000 Jews who have made homes on the West Bank; land seized by Israeli forces in the 1967 war and occupied ever since.These settlements, illegal under international law, are eating up territory earmarked for a Palestinian state.

Dietch lived in a hilltop community called Migron, unusual because it was deemed illegal even under Israeli law. Last autumn, after years of court action, the government was forced to demolish it.

Her home now is just a few hundred yards down the hill, in another Jewish settlement. I ask her if she would be prepared to sacrifice that in the cause of peace.

"Of course not," she replies without a hesitation. "And I don’t think it would bring anybody peace. There would be a civil war."

A bulldozer drives past a demolished makeshift structure in the unauthorised outpost of Ramat Migron Credit: Olivier Fitoussi/ABACA USA/Empics Entertainment

The settlers are a big power in the newly formed coalition government.That is one reason why no one is expecting a big breakthrough in the long moribund peace process.

The Israelis have a slogan for this visit. To emphasise the importance of their relationship with America, they are calling it Operation Unbreakable Alliance.

An equally accurate name would be Operation Intractable Problems.

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