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.”

End Quote

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
    +3

    Comment number 91.

    44SeeDubya

    > The USA should not be showing support for Israel until there is peace in the Middle East.

    Do you mean until Syrians and Iraqis have finished killing each other?

    Until women are respected and never punished for being raped in the Muslim world?

    Or until the armed Arab 'Spring' is over, including wherever it moves to after Syria?

    And freedom of religion is widespread?

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 90.

    Religion is the driver of this termoil. It creates an inflated sense of self importance in people. In the end, we are all the same. We, the Earth, the trees and the grass. The animals and the birds and the fish are all the same. We all compose of the same elements, created in the heart of stars, boiled in a solution of complicated chemistry. When people understand this, then, there will be peace

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 89.

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 88.

    77. chris berridge
    2 MINUTES AGO
    Until the Americans start bombing the Israeli settlements, they'll never be seen as even handed. In the meantime Obama will just be a puppet at the beck and call of the the Israeli PM.
    @'Calling for the bombing of Israeli settlements! I have to copy this for civilised people in the US to see an example of UK wisdom

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 87.

    61. ProfPhoenix
    Why such negative comments?
    Criticism if founded, intelligent and reasoned is not anti Semitic. Your argument is anti-thought.
    To compare Israel to 'other' Arab countries is a complete irrelevance and reeks of diversion.
    Palestine under incredible adversity is more of a democracy than Israel.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 86.

    He is wasting his time, Obama will be remembered as the Liberal great hope (because of his skin colour and nothing else). He has failed on Gun control, failed to bridge the wealth gap and allowed the Status Quo to continue in the Middle East by tolerating illegal actions by Israel and financing terrorist Muslim groups to gain footholds in certain countries. Obama hand back you Nobel Prize.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 85.

    Even after nearly 65 years Palestinians deserve peace promised by then U.N. for sure.Israel is in right mind for peaceful talks.Also if that brings peace to whole world will be more important.Now Syria,Egypt,Yemen are on the way of their own destruction world should be careful and no violence is not the answer.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 84.

    Nothing will ever change in the Middle East, all the while opposing factions hate each other enough to kill, It didn't help when, during the peace conference after WWI, nations there fell under the rule of allied forces. Since that time, all the West has achieved is even more partisan bitterness between tribes, and even the Gods they believe in can't repair the damage. We should not interfere.

  • rate this
    +82

    Comment number 83.

    How many years have we heard about the 'road map' and US commitment to peace and a Palestinian state? It's all lies. The politicians say one thing publicly but do the opposite.

    AIPAC, the Israeli lobby in the US is simply too powerful and heavily influence US foreign policy amongst other things.

    Most on here would agree the US and Israel are the greatest threat to world peace right now.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 82.

    Will Obama earn that Nobel peace prize?
    I hope so but doubt it.

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 81.

    Can we get Hilary Clinton to give her views on the Falklands again today, pleeease? Watching her trying to appear sincere in the face of such hypocrisy would make my day.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 80.

    ProfPhoenix @ 73

    I disagree with some of your views but applaud your comments.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 79.

    Palestinians ethnically cleansed Hebron of its ancient Jewish community in 1929 and stole their homes. In 1948 - 1967 the Jordanians cleansed the rest of the Jews from the WB and from Jerusalem, levelling temples and desecrating thousands of Jewish graves. Recently Israel withdrew from Gaza which has an open border with Egypt, and the rockets were the result. Palestinians want genocide, not peace.

  • Comment number 78.

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

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 77.

    Until the Americans start bombing the Israeli settlements, they'll never be seen as even handed. In the meantime Obama will just be a puppet at the beck and call of the the Israeli PM.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 76.

    I expect Mr. Obama got his instructions from Mr. Netanyahu for the next few years.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 75.

    I hope Obama's message involves telling the Israelis that they have to stop behaving like a badly behaved child whose parents (US and Europe) continue to pamper and allow it to get away with murder - literally

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 74.

    53.goonerforlife

    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.

    and how many Palestinian children do you recall being involved?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 73.

    Really, scum? This is hate speech

    59. Mc Curragha

    Obnoxious state, really?

    54. Dr Bob Matthews

    And nation shall speak hate unto nation. Thank you BBC. Despite the propaganda, not everyone hates the Israelis.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 72.

    Time to play hard ball with this racist WMD-heavy regime but I'm not holding my breath!

 

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