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Obama awarded Israel's Presidential Medal of Distinction

“This is an extraordinary honor, and I could not be more deeply moved," Obama said at the ceremony, adding that he accepted the medal "on behalf of the American people."

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Obama's remarks were a mixture of playful and sincere, speaking of wanting "to know the secret" of Israeli President Shimon Peres' vitality at 89 and about the inspiration drawn from the perseverance of the Jewish people. The president said the Jewish people’s “story of slavery to salvation, overcoming the most overwhelming odds -- this message has inspired the world.”

“That includes Jewish-Americans, but also African-Americans, who so often had to deal with their own challenges, with whom you have stood shoulder to shoulder," Obama continued. "African-Americans and Jewish-Americans marched together at Selma. And Montgomery. With rabbi carrying the Torah as they walked. They boarded buses for Freedom Rides together. They bled together, they gave their lives together."

Turning to the peace process facing Israel and Palestine, Obama hinted at hopes for a breakthrough.

“All things are possible, even those things that, in a moment of darkness and doubt, may seem elusive,” Obama said.

In a statement released last month announcing the award, Peres praised Obama as "a true friend of the state of Israel."

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“As president of the United States of America, he has stood with Israel in times of crisis," he continued. "During his time as president he has made a unique contribution to the security of the State of Israel, both through further strengthening the strategic cooperation between the countries and through the joint development of technology to defend against rockets and terrorism.”

The pair and gathered dignitaries enjoyed a Mediterranean sea plate, a fillet of beef and lamb chop duet, and zucchini mushroom medley as part of the celebratory meal.

The dinner concluded the second day of the president's trip. On Friday, he will visit the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, and travel later to Jordan for a meeting with King Abdullah II.