Obama vows Israeli friendship on first visit as president

 

Video highlights of President Obama's trip to Israel

Barack Obama has said Israel has "no greater friend" than the US, as he makes his first visit to the country as president.

Arriving in Tel Aviv, Mr Obama told PM Benjamin Netanyahu the US was proud to be Israel's "strongest ally", and that "peace must come to the Holy Land".

On Thursday, Mr Obama will travel to the West Bank city of Ramallah to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Peace talks, Syria and Iran's nuclear plans are expected to dominate talks.

But US officials have tried to lower expectations of any significant headway on restarting the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Correspondents say Israelis are more preoccupied with instability in the wider Middle East region than with breathing new life into the peace process, which broke down in 2010 amid a dispute over continued Israeli settlement construction.

Start Quote

The leaders fell over themselves to be nice. Which is after all the purpose of this trip. To rebuild bridges, re-establish relationships.”

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Settlement supporters are a big force in Israel's new coalition government.

'Eternal alliance'

Mr Obama was welcomed by Mr Netanyahu and Israeli President Shimon Peres at Ben Gurion airport, where he was shown a missile battery that forms part of Israel's Iron Dome defence system against rocket attacks.

"Even as we are clear eyed about the difficulties, we will never lose sight of the vision of an Israel at peace with its neighbours," he said in brief comments.

He added: "The United States stands with Israel because it is in our fundamental security interests to stand with Israel. Our alliance is eternal. It is forever."

Mr Netanyahu thanked Mr Obama for "unequivocally affirming Israel's sovereign right to defend itself by itself against any threat".

Mr Obama later visited Mr Peres at his official residence where, in a joint news conference, the Israeli president said the two nations were united by a common vision - to confront dangers and bring peace.

Barack Obama in Middle East

  • Wednesday: Meets Benjamin Netanyahu
  • Thursday: Meets Mahmoud Abbas
  • Friday: Visits Bethlehem's Church of Nativity and later departs for Jordan

Mr Peres said he trusted the US in its policy of preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

President Obama said he had reassured Mr Peres "that in this work Israel will have no greater friend than the United States".

Mr Obama then went on to talks with Mr Netanyahu, with whom he has had a notoriously frosty relationship.

The main purpose of this trip is rebuild bridges and improving relationships which could give him more leverage over the new Israeli government, the BBC North America editor Mark Mardell reports.

The leaders' initial warm, if scripted, exchanges were a step towards doing that, our correspondent adds.

At home, Mr Obama has been criticised for not having visited Israel in his first term as president, with some saying it shows he is not close enough to the country. And one recent Israeli opinion poll suggested a mere 10% of the public had a favourable opinion of the US president.

On Thursday, Mr Obama will make a speech to Israeli university students, and travel to the West Bank to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

End 'apartheid'

Security for the visit is tight, with thousands of Israeli and Palestinian security officers on duty in Jerusalem and the Palestinians' de facto capital in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

US President Barack Obama (right) and Israeli President Shimon Peres, Jerusalem, 20 March 2013

Both Israeli and Palestinian groups have staged protests in the run-up to Mr Obama's visit.

Some 200 activists pitched tents in the area known as E1, a stretch of land in East Jerusalem on which Israel controversially plans to build new houses. The Israeli move has been widely criticised, including by the US.

Abdullah Abu Rahma, a protest organiser, said they wanted to send a message to Mr Obama: "Enough with bias and support for Israel."

In the West Bank city of Hebron, protesters wearing masks of Mr Obama and civil rights leader Martin Luther King called for an end to "apartheid".

There were clashes between the pro-Palestinian protesters and some of the settlers living in the divided city, and a number of Palestinians were arrested.

In Gaza City, protesters burned US flags outside UN offices, the Associated Press reports.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the visit was "ominous" and unwelcome, and that its consequences would be negative.

"It gives legitimacy to the occupation and confirms the political support of the United States [to Israel]," AP quoted him as saying.

Meanwhile, Israelis have been staging protests in Jerusalem demanding Mr Obama free Jonathan Pollard, imprisoned in the US in 1987 for spying for Israel.

 

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  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 11.

    If America stayed out of it Israel wouldnt be able to keep flaunting UN security council resolutions. They keep hundreds of thousands of Palestinians virtual prisoners, Israel limit the amount of food thats allowed in, building materials and medical aid. Unfortunately it will take a bigger man than Obama to fight the Pro Israel lobbyists, he cant even get guns off his own streets.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 10.

    It is evident to even the most feeble minded that a two state solution will solve this decades old dispute - get the religious out of both political institutions and watch it happen.

    Then I'll wake up from fantasy land...

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 9.

    "his (Obama`s )administration's repeated assertion that the two countries share an "unbreakable alliance".


    If it is an unbreakable alliance how can the US act impartially?

  • Comment number 8.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    +106

    Comment number 7.

    I'd like to think he was going to read the riot act and threaten to withold all aid and support until Israel abides by all UN resolutions, stops building illegal settlements in occupied land and stops turning Gaza into a ghetto, but I'm not holding my breath.

  • rate this
    -23

    Comment number 6.

    Obama needs to reset the process by putting pressure not only on the Palestinians but on Arab nations who have refused to come to the table without preconditions.

    It is time for the Arab world to start making concessions to Israel such as recognizing the current borders as fair and just.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 5.

    This is a forced visit as apart of the AIPAC agreement. As other comments have stated, expect nothing but pro-Israeli comments, and watch him, as usual, not confront them about their countless human rights violations. Well who can blame him, the guy got a nobel peace prize for nothing and has used more drones to kill children than his predecessor Bush. ALL presidents will be neo-conservative.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 4.

    Only one political topic in the Near East is resolving itself into absolute clarity: Iran is trying to achieve nuclear capability.

  • rate this
    +134

    Comment number 3.

    As long as the politics on both sides are determined by men who believe God cares about whether or not you have a beard, there will be no solution.

  • rate this
    +51

    Comment number 2.

    Obama has already given up on the peace process he is too much of a coward to confront the Israel Lobby in Washington. He has to go to Israel at least once as president to pay homage. Expect nothing worthwhile from this trip.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 1.

    The problems over there will never be sorted untill the borders get replaced to the pre 1960's levels and the settlements stop on occupied land. On the other side the rockets need to stop. This will not happen because of the hardliners on both sides. Obama's visit will not change that, change has to come from within.

 

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