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 171.

    "There is only one permanent solution, one state, Palestine."
    But there must also be an Israeli state with its borders secured and guaranteed roughly in line with the pre 1967 borders. Unfortunately, the Zionist lobby is too strong. They want the Israel border on the R. Jordan. That, plus Hamas & number of Arab States who want Israel destroyed, are the real barriers to peace.

  • rate this

    Comment number 170.

    Simple Obama is there because there are some very rich Jewish people who support the state of Israel in the US. If it wasnt for their money the west wouldnt care what happened to Israel.

    I am more concerned about Millibands intentions if ever we are stupid enough to keep him head of the Labour Party in the build up to the next election, if elected he will be over to Israel within 12 months

  • rate this

    Comment number 169.

    Another suck up trip for the Pres. Next stop Argentina to tell Kirchner how wonderful she is.

  • rate this

    Comment number 168.

    I wish Obama had balls

  • rate this

    Comment number 167.

    @98 Sure they do, but remember the Arab Spring has helped increase the number of "threatening" governments neighbouring Israel. Israel is being called bully so only way to justify continued settlement in the face of international condemnation would be to play victim- exactly what is being achieved, look at Syria, western powers actively encouraging Islamist rebels to take over

  • rate this

    Comment number 166.

    This won't be something that the BBC would report, but Israeli settlements...you know....the ones that are apparently the "stumbling blocks to peace" (even though palestinians were attacking Israel before a single settlement was built) constitute just under 2% of Judea & Samaria (West Bank) land.

  • rate this

    Comment number 165.

    See 145, Mak
    I agree

  • rate this

    Comment number 164.

    123. Antara Dasgupta
    Action should be taken for creating a Palestinian state. If Israel can be declared a state in 1948, why can't Palestine be declared a state?

    It was, the UN Partition Plan of 1948 divided Palestine to create the modern state of Israel and a Palestinian state.
    Israel's only legally defined borders are those delineated in 1948, which gave it 52% of the land, it now sits on 78%

  • rate this

    Comment number 163.

    I thought one problem with the 'Arab Spring' was the people in those countries rising up agaisnt their often western backed dictators. They therefore are unlikely to automatically be close freinds with the west.

    156. The arab countries had nominal autonomy under the Turks, just like any colonial empire, western or eastern.

  • rate this

    Comment number 162.


    "The solution to the problem is in US hands,"

    The US may have to tread more carefully if Mr Putin buys a place in the sun,warm water port included and conveniently placed for the middle east , Cyprus

  • rate this

    Comment number 161.

    Israel does not need the USA. It survived without US support in 1948 against overwhelming odds. Five well armed Arab armies invaded Israel. Israel's greatest supporter was a weak France, yet Israel got the better of the fight. They will again if there is a similar war that looks set to wipe them out, because Israel's real strength is God, who brought Jews back to their land as He promised.

  • rate this

    Comment number 160.

    Already,the Whitehouse announed it has arranged missiles in response to North Korea.

    Nuclear war is the terror.

    Iran's nuclear development is yet more of this danger.

    If Israel became a catalyst for these missiles to be used, then terrifying destruction will come to everyone.

    Let those behind goverments, before it is too late,bring peace, not war.

  • rate this

    Comment number 159.

    Israel is a bit like Alaska, a thorn in the, how shall i put it without upsetting the BBC moderators, in the posterior.

  • rate this

    Comment number 158.

    #125. swerdna
    "So the Israelis are 100% wrong and the Arabs 100% right i assume"
    That is NOT what I said!!
    I do know that Jewish terrorists caused mahem in the region during the 1930s/40s - killing many Palestinian Arabs and British troops and civilians. I do know that many Pals were forced out of their homes in 1948. I also know Hamas do the Pals cause no favours.

  • rate this

    Comment number 157.

    #128. c_cat
    '..remember the Crusader States? They were outposts established in the Middle East by invading Europeans. Sounds familiar, eh?

    Apart from the simple argument that Jews were in Palestine before the Crusaders. Arguing about historical 'right' is utterly pointless.

    121. FrankSydney
    US backs Syrian rebels against pro-Hezbollah Asad... how does that fit into your theory?

  • rate this

    Comment number 156.

    Those that blame Western imperialism for the creation of Israel would do well to keep in mind that every Arab state in the region other than Egypt had never been 'states' until the ruling colonial powers designated them as such. The Ottomans never gave any of them statehood until the British etc. did so.

    Where did Pakistan suddenly come from in 1948 for one good example?

  • rate this

    Comment number 155.

    I am worried that if ever we are stupid enough to allow the Labour party to be elected with Ed Milliband as leader, he could show religious solidarity with the Israel and I am sure the Israelis are fully aware of this opportunity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 154.

    144. powermeerkat

    Why are you mentioning the 7th centrury a.d? Should we kick out the anglo-saxons from the U.S.A considering there weren't any on that land until the 15th century a.d?

  • rate this

    Comment number 153.

    Obama only needs to give one message, Israel, pack up and leave Palestine. Migrants return home, give the area peace and overdue rights sovereignty of their own lands. There is only one permanent solution, one state, Palestine.

  • rate this

    Comment number 152.

    Who suspects that the people incharge of all this violence is actually atheist, using religion to manipulate the people so that they have a justification for fighting but in the end JUST want the power and the money behind it


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