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
    0

    Comment number 211.

    JamesStGeorge
    Take away the migrants, leave it to the original locals to self determine the state.
    --
    If we took away the migrants, most 'palestinains' would be back in Egypt, and what is now Jordan, Syria & Lebanon.

    Gazans speak with an Egyptian dialect.

    There is no 'palestinian' ethnic group. There are Arabs who migrated to a region named 'palestine'.

    Revisionism will not alter that.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 210.

    #171, if you refer to Palestine in "biblical terms", then Palestine was actually in Lebanon and Syria, Isreal is in Judea!

  • rate this
    -4

    Comment number 209.

    David Windsor you should get one of those Matt Lucas awards... let you guess which award i'm thinking you should get... rhymes with Tiggest Bwat!

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 208.

    Am I not destroying my enemies when I make friends of them?

    Abraham Lincoln

  • rate this
    -4

    Comment number 207.

    To all those complaining about Israel, will you rather Live in Israel or in Iran? Freedom is a God giving right and dictators who suppress freedom should be an enemy of all humans. It's no surprise that extreme evil originates from areas of oppression. The west needs to stand firm and defeat this evil, This evil uses Islam to disguise itself, launching attacks on freedom!

  • rate this
    +8

    Comment number 206.

    For a people that suffered so much abuse under the Nazi rule, it really is shocking they treat Palestinians like they do, stealing land and murdering. It's also shocking how much the US support Israel, both in monetary and military terms. someone please remind me why Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize? The first black president will go down in history as a war monger...

  • rate this
    -4

    Comment number 205.

    #191. swerdna
    'Back to pre-1967 borders'

    Israels borders changed as a result of anti-Israeli arab states attacking and losing war(s). Israel has to take a massive leap of faith in trusting Arabs in West-bank/Gaza and elsewhere. The onus is on the Arabs and while they encourage the siege mentality of the Zionists not a lot will change.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 204.

    188 - please separate the anti isreali government action from anti-jewish posts.
    I know we in the Uk turned anne frank's family down 'overrun by immigrants' as the Daily Mail put it, and the USA was considering an application when germany invaded Holland.
    I do not think that the horrors of the Houlocaust gives any of those groups carte blanche though.

  • Comment number 203.

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

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 202.

    "michellegrand
    166 sanbag. Interesting take. Our cities and towns in the Uk occupy a small percentage too"

    Yes, should we let the Welsh and Irish re-occupy 2% of the best land in England on the basis they're descended from the Brigantes, Iceni and other iron age Celtic tribes that used to live there and cut off the access to roads, water and other resources of the current residents?

  • rate this
    -4

    Comment number 201.

    @185.Vampire

    there is only one REAL power.

    the real power of MONEY.

    Obama need to stay friendly with indirect links paying into the party.

    ...so this trip to sunny climate is another homage to one of various paymasters...

    @176.Guttersnipe

    Obama represents a historical milestone in internal US race relations, great for all Americans, not just for Blacks. I'm OK with the Nobel prize on that.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 200.

    Do hope the weather is nice for him.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 199.

    Why Obama was given the Nobel peace prize! The man should at least have the decency to say he is unworthy of it. Interesting that he knows Netanyahu is a liar and untrustworthy - but are the two men so different. Now we know that Obama was no different a speech in Cairo promising to make the solving of the Israel-Palestinian conflict one of his foreign policy priorities. Big liar or impotent.

  • rate this
    -4

    Comment number 198.

    171. Swerdna

    No. Israel as a state has no place existing at all. The state of that whole area was and for want of other name is Palestine. Take away the migrants, leave it to the original locals to self determine the state.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 197.

    ... Did I say Good Luck? You'll need it. It is fair that you come to Israel with little or no expectation of forging a grand peace plan. None of your predecessors has ever succeeded in brokering one. Perhaps - you never know - something good will come out of this low-key approach. I am an ardent supporter of Israel, but in Israel's interests, do me a favour, OK? Go see the Palestinians, too.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 196.

    @ 188;

    Well people don't like self-centred bullies who are always quick to claim THEY are the victims of abuse.

    QQ

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 195.

    Perhaps gone to see where his money is spent and on what.

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 194.

    The Human Rights Council has adopted more resolutions condemning Israel than it has all other states combined. It's about time Israel is made to follow international law, at present it pursues its expansionist and murderous policies with impunity. The US should start to apply real pressure on Israel like it does on Iran, N.Korea, Cuba etc

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 193.

    179muff

    > It seems that the Arabs have only got to launch a few rockets at Israel & the west is up in arms, whilst the Israelis can carry on building illegal settlements & destroying arab housing etc. & nobody makes a sound! bit unfair is that I think!

    Yes, I agree it is unfair to equate building with murdering.

    And often 'nobody makes a sound' about rockets until Israel defends herself.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 192.

    President Obama will be on tenterhooks wanting to use this visit to mend fences. His relationship with PM Netanyahu has been frosty at times. His determination to show a balanced approach towards Israel, Palestinian leaders has not gone down well with the Israeli leader. On the surface however they will try to paper their differences, show an united stand against Iran. Watch their body language!

 

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