JERUSALEM (USA TODAY) - Ordinary Israelis have been grumbling all week about the traffic jams from President Obama's visit before the start of the holiday of Passover, when Jewish families forage in shops for days to host the biggest religious feast of the year.
But many Israelis softened their complaints following the warm remarks Obama made after Air Force One landed in Tel Aviv and he was greeted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
"I was impressed at the warmth shown to each other, though I am still quite skeptical," said Arnie Draiman of Jerusalem. "I believe that they just might not like each other. I hope that this will not interfere with their professionalism and determination to get the job done."
News media opinion polls here showed that 10% of Israelis view Obama favorably and more than a third don't think he is a strong ally of Israel.
Obama and Netanyahu have had public disagreements over how to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear bomb and over Israel's handling of the Palestinians who want an independent state on territory known as the West Bank.
Given the tension, Israelis, a majority of whom support Netanyahu's approaches to the problems of the region, have watched the day's events closely to see how the two leaders get along.
The red-carpet welcoming ceremony was broadcast live by Israeli TV stations, pre-empting regular programming. The microphones that followed the American and Israeli leaders' every remark enabled the world to eavesdrop, providing an unprecedented sense of intimacy.
Obama's first words to Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres directly were, "It's a lovely day. Great to see you, great to be here ... It's good to get away from Congress."
Peres welcomed the president with the words, "We face the same dangers, we share the same hopes."
Netanyahu called the visit a "historic moment": "I come here today with a simple message. Thank you," he said. "Baruch haba ley israel - welcome to Israel. The people of Israel are honored to have you visit."
The speeches, held under a brilliant blue sky and temperatures in the 70s, appeared to reflected a genuine desire to mend fences, news commentators claimed.
Obama called the visit "an opportunity to reaffirm the unbreakable bond between our two nations. "
In a clear message to those who say Arabs, but not Jews, have rights to the land on which Israel stands, Obama called Israel "the historic homeland of the Jewish people," where they "lived 3,000 years ago."
Referring to his two previous visits, Obama said - in Hebrew - "It is good to be back in Israel."
Welcoming Obama's "on this his first foreign visit of his second term," Netanyahu thanked the president "for standing by Israel at this time of historic change in the Middle East."
Netanyahu said he hoped that Obama would "get to see a different side of this tiny land."
"I look forward to working with you over the next four years to make the alliance between our two countries even stronger," he said.
Obama's use of Hebrew reminded Israelis of another intimate moment: President Bill Clinton's words "Goodbye Friend," which he uttered, in Hebrew, at the funeral of his friend Yitzhak Rabin, the assassinated prime minister of Israel.
If Israelis were pleased by Obama's warm words, they were even more touched when, sensing that Israel's 89-year-old president, Peres, was having trouble keeping up with him on the red carpet, he put his arm around Peres' waist and slowed his own pace.
Watching the ceremony, one Israeli TV commentator remarked, "Who Remembers Romney Now?" Netanyahu was widely perceived as a supporter of Republican candidate Mitt Romney during the 2012 U.S. presidential election campaign.
The Obama visit was front-page news in every Israeli newpaper. In an unprecedented step, the headline and editorial of the mass-circulation Hebrew daily Yedioth Ahronothappeared in both English and Hebrew.
The editorial, "In hope, in faith," says, "You, the great America, facilitated our rise, from the ashes of the Holocaust, to the establishment of a state."
But Ma'ariv, another large paper, castigated the American administration for not releasing convicted American Jewish spy Jonathan Pollard, who has been imprisoned for more than 25 years, far longer than any other person who spied for an American ally.
About 2,000 Israelis demonstrated on Pollard's behalf the day before Obama's arrival.
Though Israelis were clearly gratified by Obama's speech, Ari Shavit, a political commentator in the Ha'aretz newspaper, said the American president will have to give more than speeches to win the Israeli public's trust.
Obama, he wrote, "lost the Israelis a few times," when he traveled to Cairo during his first term in office, but not to Israel, and again when he insisted Israel freeze settlements for almost a year. Nor did Obama adequately understand the true threat of Iranian weapons.
"The third chapter in the relationship between Barack Obama and the State of Israel will be the decisive one," Shavit wrote. "The nice words and festive events of the next two days will be the start of a new effort to propose a new peace to us. If Obama and his men are smart, this new effort will be more creative and realistic than previous ones. If the Israelis are smart, they'll listen, internalize, and get moving. Welcome, Barack Obama. This pained land very much needs the hope you are about to offer."
On the tarmac of Ben-Gurion International Airport, Obama emphasized the historic link of the Jewish people to the Holy Land and stressed the "rebirth" of Israel as the historic Jewish homeland.
Speaking in Hebrew, he said, "Tov lihiyot shuv ba'aretz" ("It's good to be in Israel again"). This is Obama's third visit to Israel, which he called the "historic homeland of the Jewish people." It was a welcome recognition to Israelis surrounded by Arab militant organizations and terror groups that claim that the Jewish people have no connection to the land here prior to the creation of the modern state in the aftermath of the Holocaust and World War II.
"More than 3,000 years ago, the Jewish people lived here, tended the land here, prayed to God here. And after centuries of exile and persecution, unparalleled in the history of man, the founding of the Jewish state of Israel, was a rebirth, a redemption, unlike any in history," he said. "Today, the sons of Abraham and the daughters of Sarah are fulfilling the dream of the ages: to be masters of their own fate in their own sovereign state.
"Just as we have for these past 65 years, the United States is proud to stand with you as your strongest ally and your greatest friend," Obama said.
Shlomo Loshinsky, a businessman, said had Obama come to Israel after his Cairo speech four years ago, jetting past Israel, he might have developed the trust of the Israeli people and quite possibly spurred the peace process with the Palestinians.
"Israelis are asked to give up something tangible, land for an iffy proposition, a piece of paper," he said. "Obama would have made us more secure that he had 'our back' had come here after speaking at the Egyptian parliament."
Contributing: Israel Hayom
Michele Chabin, Special for USA TODAY