Obama’s speech: Israelis reserved, Palestinians upbeat

June 5th, 2009 - 10:45 pm ICT by IANS  

Barack Obama Tel Aviv/Ramallah, June 5 (DPA) Israel Friday appeared to be in damage control mode, a day after US President Barack Obama’s address at the Cairo University, highlighting the segments that were positive for Jerusalem.
“Obama did not hit Israel on the head with a baseball bat,” an aide to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the country’s biggest-selling Yediot Ahronot daily in remarks published Friday.

But while Israel officially put on a welcoming face, beneath the surface disappointment and disgruntlement could be felt.

Palestinians largely hailed Obama’s speech as “historic”, although they did ask for words to be followed up by deeds.

But in Israel, the reaction was reserved. The Israeli government took almost four hours to phrase a brief formal statement, which said it was committed to peace.

President Shimon Peres described Obama’s words as “ones of wisdom and courage”.

Controversial Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, of the far-right Israel Beiteinu coalition party, in a statement issued by his office spoke of “an important address”, which stressed that “as President Obama noted, the bond between the US and Israel is strong and unbreakable, even when there are occasional legitimate differences”.

But speaking to local media on condition of anonymity, Israeli officials took a different tone, with one senior government source even calling Obama’s words “childish and naive”.

They said they were especially “disappointed” by Obama’s conciliatory tone towards Iran. In fact, charged one official close to Netanyahu, Obama has made peace with a nuclear Iran.

Israel’s Channel 10 television also quoted government officials as voicing concern that Obama’s unequivocal call from the outset for an absolute settlement freeze would make it difficult to reach “even the slightest” compromise on that issue.

Obama would have difficulty coming down the high tree he climbed, having placed his prestige on the line, they complained.

Channel 10’s political correspondent Chico Menashe called Obama’s conciliatory remarks to the Arab world “ingratiation” to the point of being “almost sticky”.

The popular commercial channel said in its main evening news, devoted largely to the address, that “US policy toward the Middle East was redefined today (Thursday) by a president who feels close to Islam”.

In general, Israeli media noted that the “Obama doctrine” was far less supportive of Israel than that of his predecessor George W. Bush.

“A new era,” said a large headline on the front page of the second biggest-selling Ma’ariv daily Friday, with a stand-first adding: “The voice of the president of the United States echoed yesterday (Thursday) throughout the world. Barack Obama clarified to his listeners from Tehran, through Ramallah and up to the (Israeli) prime minister’s office in Jerusalem that his US sees only one solution to the Middle East conflict: two states.”

The Ha’aretz broadsheet lifted out one segment from Obama’s speech, spread out, in Hebrew, in large print on its front page:

“Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel’s right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine’s. The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop.”

In the Palestinian areas, meanwhile, a front-page headline in the al-Quds newspaper said: “Palestinians and Arabs welcome Obama’s reconciliation speech with the Muslim world.”

An editorial said Obama’s word had “come from the heart”, noting that “some Palestinians may not agree with everything in the speech, but what is definite was that many Israelis did not like it”.

It especially welcomed the sympathy Obama expressed for the suffering of the Palestinian since Israel’s foundation in 1948.

Hafiz Barghouti, editor in chief of the official al-Hayat al-Jadida, said “Obama is different from George Bush”, adding he hoped he would continue to “remove the hate from American politics” that marked the previous US administration’s relations with the Arab and Muslim worlds.

Omar al-Ghoul, writing in the same newspaper, described the address as “unconventional and historic by all means”.

Obama did not come up with any new suggestions for a political settlement, he said, then added: “Yet an objective observer cannot but notice a change in tone from previous administrations.”

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