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
    +1

    Comment number 71.

    The Us government is suffering from exactly the same malaise as the UK Government. They need to do what they are paid for and take charge of the situation. Not let every every whinger and bully and liar do exactly as they want, whilst the respective governments do nothing but try to smile and look pleased.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 70.

    Hopefully Obama will remind Israel that there is a U.N. and that there is a 2 state solution & way for peace that has been decided on at the U.N. in the past & that Israel should be following that. Israel should not be in a hurry to go to war, it should be interested in making more than 2 or 3 efforts for peace first. It has to stop the illegal settlements & give the land back.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 69.

    It is a disgrace that the illegitimate occupation and the suffering of the Palestinian people continues today... There are no illusions regarding Obama, he long discredited himself, don't think the Palestinian people have any trust left in him or the international community in general.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 68.

    One love.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 67.

    @52 - thats a pretty racist thing to say - who do think runs the city, frankfurt, singapore, hong kong - all the banks that you all moan about - not many jews thats for sure. so all the bad bankers are greedy jews and all the good ones benevolent christians? - dont be so daft.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 66.

    Once again the US is on the wrong side of history. It wasn't that long ago Nelson Mandela was labelled a terrorist by the US. Eventually, he got a grovelling apology. Sooner or later, the Palestinians will produce a media-friendly individual who'll go on Oprah & articulate the Palestinian cause. The dispossession, the daily humiliations, the racism & when that happens, it's game over for Israel.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 65.

    45.outhousemouse

    Staight out of the Propaganda machine.

    Gob smacked you didn't mention the fairytale about it being your Gods chosen land.

    We can argue about YOUR version of history, however what can't be denied, no body, be it UN, NATO, League of Nations has the right to decree another's lands to the Jews, or anyone else for that matter.

    Morally repugnant!

  • rate this
    -4

    Comment number 64.

    The Israelis kick Palestinian's out of their houses saying they have no right to them, then give them to their supporters. Something like that could never happen here. Er hang on a minute, bedroom tax?

  • Comment number 63.

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

  • rate this
    -37

    Comment number 62.

    Nothing new, Every US President must vist Israel and swallow what our Politicians have to say. After all Israel is the only country truely fighiting Terrorism!!! We catch and detain terrorists every day. US can learn something from us on that. America has been a very good ally, providing us wirh $3 billion annually hope Obama increases it, now that we have more threat from Iran and Syria.

  • rate this
    -42

    Comment number 61.

    Lots of anti Israeli comments today. People here really believe that Israel controls the US, that it occupies so much Arab land. Hey, look at the map and see just how much territory is controlled by Israel, and then ask how much of the other territory has any semblance of democracy. Or do facts matter when prejudice rules? Obama will try to ditch Israel and the BBC will praise him for it.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 60.

    16

    '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?'

    Dont make me laugh is it a democracy when arabs are openly discriminated against? educate yourself kido

  • Comment number 59.

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

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 58.

    hopefully he can talk some sense into those israeli's and knock a few heads together. Seems to me a lot of grief/ terrorism in the world could be stopped if the world started treating the palestinians decently.

  • rate this
    +38

    Comment number 57.

    So opinion polls put Obama well below G W Bush's ratings in both Palestine AND Israel but the BBC doesn't report it.

    Now there IS a surprise!

  • Comment number 56.

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

  • rate this
    +8

    Comment number 55.

    Peace in the Middle East is an impossibility - there are to many fanatics, fruitcakes, nutcases, extremists, murderers and warmongers. And ftenthey are part of the governing party of most of the countries that blight this region.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 54.

    Why is he even bothering to visit the obnoxious state of Israel? Because like every president of the USA he has to go and receive his instructions.
    AIPAC detemine US policy from finance to arms dealing.

  • rate this
    -8

    Comment number 53.

    '37 Nick - good to know you dont think its right - shame you had to justify it though. read up first - there have been between 8000-12000 rocket attacks - its good fortune few people have been killed - nothing more. like i said, you try living under that sort of attack. By the way, where were you on 9/11 or 7/7, Madrid, Bali, etc - dont recall israelis involved. go to israel - see for yourself.

  • Comment number 52.

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

 

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