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.

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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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Israel and the Palestinians


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  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    To all you people banging on about Israel and the poor arabs, just remember, it isn`t the Israelis trying to enforce their religious beliefs by terror and it isn`t the Israelies or Americans who are destabilising that part of the world, its us

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    More posts filled with anti-Israel rhetoric:-
    1. NW1837
    Borders return to before 1967? That would mean Jordan occupying the West Bank and Egypt occupying Gaza.
    11. rea12
    Keep Palestinians prisoners? Are these in the so-called refugee camps. Camps that still exist 65 years after Israel was founded. These people should not be there. They should be absorbed into the adjacent Arab countries.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    17. Trout Mask Replica
    Obama should remind all parties that international borders and allocation of resources in the modern world are determined by negotiation in good faith and modern understanding of justice, not based on the interpretation of books of bronze age creation myths.
    or scientifically invented/enhanced weaponry.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    The problem with achieving an equitable settlement of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is that the major player, the USA, only listens to the Israeli narrative.
    The spectacle of Netanyahu(who destroyed the Oslo Agreement) getting 27 standing ovations from the US Congress demonstrates the problem.
    The expropriation of Palestinian lands and the dispossession of it's people never stops.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    As the root cause of the Palestine problem are the USA through their proxy post of Israel in this land, this “listening” will be nothing more than a theatrical gesture. However, the geopolitical climate is changing in the region at the expense of USA.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    For two deeply religious peoples, there seems an awful lot of hate involved, yet they both worship the same God, professing him the God of love. Yeah right.

  • Comment number 25.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    I went to Jerusalem and Bethlehem last year, in Jerusalem it was like walking into disneyland, everthing seemed fake and stage managed for us tourists, Bethlehem on the other hand seemed natural, as it could be surrounded by 30 foot walls. I must say that I felt more for the Arabs than I did for the Jews, but with the US military and financial backing they will always have the upper hand.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    I don't see how throwing shoes at a Picture is ever going to make things better.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    If anyone commenting here thinks that subjective claims that human rights abuses happen only on one side, or that the fault is simply down to one set of beards (I do like that one, Daniel) then they themselves are part of the problem.
    The West says compromise is strength, Arabs say it is weakness so there is an impasse but everyone has the right to live in peace. All the leaders need to wake up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    Perhasp Mr Obama will remind Israel that although there are deaths on both sides the Palestinian deaths are much higher.

    The World bows down to Israel as they are a nuclear power & its wrong.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    The good news is that, with the collapse of Assad's Syria, the terrorists have lost one of their main financial supports. The collapse of Iran would force the terrorists into real talks. The real interests of Palestinians and Israelis converge on theses, as on so many others.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    I wonder if any good will come from this. Obama cas consistently but covertly suported the Palestinian terrorists as far as he has been able. What will be the most interesting thing about this visit is what is not reported.

    We can only hope and pray that he will change his tune and fully support Israel against the Arab, sorry, Islamic extreamist spring.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    @7 nick - perhaps if you had rockets landing in your town or village every day which are never reported by the media - or had a friend or relative blown up by these indiscriminate attacks on civilians ,you might think differently. Ever been to israel - i doubt it - the only democracy in the region. look at syria, egypt, iraq, iran - all run by dictators and warlords - dont panda to media bias.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    Obama should remind all parties that international borders and allocation of resources in the modern world are determined by negotiation in good faith and modern understanding of justice, not based on the interpretation of books of bronze age creation myths.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    Once again the ususual nonsense about the Jewish Lobby. Do some research and see that the Christian right in the US set the agenda in support of Israel so that the end of days battle can take place in Armagedon - a valley in Israel. And why should the US not support the only true democracy in the ME where Arabs and Israelis live side by side in peace..but that doesn't make much of a story does it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    There will come a point when interest and compassion for the Israeli - Palestinian 'debacle' runs drier than the Mohave desert.

    And there will also come a point when military and political intervention no longer carries any leverage whatsoever.

    When that point is reached, the problem will solve itself - neither peoples or territories will exist.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Take a better look at this long running land claim story!
    Obama or any other president do not just solve the issues, by "showing" a magic want!

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Its been quite a week or so for firsts, Pope, Beeb, thank God its Happiness day and we can quench our thirst for firsts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    He's there for his own agenda and no doubt will lick the correct bottoms to meet his own ends, without a thought for the ones being ousted from their own land


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