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 51.

    Talk about a non story,Obama has demonstrated that he's a lame duck president,going nowhere fast.As for Israel,nothing will change there while US senators are continually bribed by AIPAC to do nothing,no other country in the world would get away with the disgraceful treatment of a entire people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    Always good for the Tail (Obama) to meet the Dog

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    It'll be good for him to see where the 3bn a year aid the US gives Israel goes : Arms, bulldozers to flatten Palestinian villages, concrete to build huge walls around whatever is left and buses so you can segregate passengers on racial terms, to name a few.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    The jews have been persecuted for thousands of years, you can't expect them not to be a little bit paranoid.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    One day, maybe my children or their children will be able to look back on the middle east conflicts with a sense of perspective. A tragic loss of lives over centuries of bickering over who's Prophet was the real deal. Everything else is just secondary politics.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    I really wish polticians and the media would drop their obsession with the Israel/Palestine question.

    For decades, there has been so much talk about it, whilst other far worse and more important questions elsewhere were ignored.

    Israel just served as a scapegoat for the region, and the western anti-semitic left.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    You need a history lesson.
    At the end of WW1, the League of Nations agreed to create a national homeland for the Jews comprising what is now Israel, Gaza, the West Bank, and Jordan.
    This was later split: Palestine for the Jews and Transjordan for the Arabs.
    The West Bank is actually part of the original land given by the League of Nations to the Jewish people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    The USA should not be showing support for Israel until there is peace in the Middle East. Israel is like the nasty little kid at school who causes trouble and bullies other kids because he has a six foot mate standing behind him. Take the support away and he has to learn how to behave.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    I grew up learning about the suffering of Jews during World War 2 and their strugglle post War.

    Then as I got older I learned about the terrorist attacks on the British Soliders who tried to help them post War.

    Now there are Palestinians dying and the World doesn't give two hoots.

    My view of the Israelis is very different now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    @outhousemouse "Are these in the so-called refugee camps. Camps that still exist 65 years after Israel was founded?" Founded by stealing their land, demolishing their communities, bulldozing their homes.Of course its a refugee camp, Israel wont let it be anything else.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    Knut Largerson

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

    Try a visit to Tate Modern , it might make sense then

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    Who are America's friends? Is it:

    A) Israelis, many of whom dislike the US President but still support the US?

    B) Palestinians, many of whom hate the US / it's President enough to throw shoes at or drive over pictures of him?

    Many Americans could join A, but why would they help group B? Don't expect Americans to help those who hate them.

    How not to win friends and influence people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    I wonder if Obama is going to ask if he can add/increase American military presence in the country in readiness for an invasion of Syria.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    Nice i hope it will strengthen relationship between USA and Israel government

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    @18: Israelis killed by Hamas rocket attacks between 2004 and 2012 - 26. Gaza civilians killed in Israeli invasion Dec 2008 - Jan 2009 - 1,200.

    Hamas wrong to deliberately target Israeli civilians but they do it it bring attention to the human right abuses inflicted on them. Israeli reaction however is grossly disproportionate.

  • Comment number 36.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    Poor man - I feel sorry for him.

    THE AEI and other lobby groups run the Whitehouse
    The NRA squashed his proposed assault weapon ban
    The Republicans continue their suicidal Fiscal Cliff policy
    The Palestinians will bring him to task over Israel's continued violation of UN dictates.
    The Israelis will summon him and expect him to rubber-stamp their war plans.

    Be worried ...

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    @26 Bruxical - while many say they believe in the same God, on the basis of evidence it cannot be true. If I tell you I have one mother and she cares for her children and you say you have one mother and she chops off the hands of children who are naughty, we can hardly come to the conclusion that we both have the same mother. There's such a thing as false prophets.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    reading some of the anti israeli nonsence on here you'd think israel ruled the world. Its a tiny country of 7.5m people of which 1.5m are arab israelis who certainly know where they'd rather live. There are 15m jews in the whole world out of 7billion - if you think such a tiny number has so much world power it doesnt say much for ther rest of you lot!

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    So Israel must abide by all UN resolutions whilst terrorist organisations and countries such as Iran, with the tacit support of the extreme left and right in Europe openly call for its destruction. And once again the world stands by and turns a blind eye to the true criminals in this struggle. This time we will fight back and at times retaliate first!! NEVER AGAIN!!!!!!


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