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Israeli Leaders React to Obama Speech

Israeli politicians were largely optimistic in their responses to U.S. President Obama's address to the Muslim world Thursday.
By Maayana Miskin
First Publish: 6/4/2009, 8:13 PM

Israel News Photo: file

Israeli leaders were largely optimistic in their responses to United States President Barak Obama's speech in Cairo on Thursday. Obama mentioned the Israeli-Arab conflict in his address, and called for the establishment of a PA-led Arab state.

"We share President Obama's hope that the American effort heralds the beginning of a new era, one that will bring an end to the conflict and to Arab recognition of Israel as the nation of the Jewish people,” the government said in a press release.

There was no official Israeli reaction to Obama's call for an Arab state in Judea and Samaria, or to his warning that Israel must not build or expand Jewish homes in those areas. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and other senior leaders have said that they intend to allow construction within existing Jewish communities.

President Shimon Peres had particularly warm praise for the speech, which he termed “brave” and “filled with vision.”

Defense Minister Ehud Barak praised the American president for stressing universal values in his speech. “The address gives encouragement and strength to moderates and those who seek peace, while challenging terrorism and the violence and extremism that threatens regional stability,” he said.

Israel will do its part to advance regional peace, while looking out for its security needs, Barak said. He expressed hope that the Arab world would heed Obama's call to end terrorism and violence.

While responses from the cabinet were largely positive, there was criticism of Obama's speech as well. Minister Daniel Hershkowitz, head of the Jewish Home party, said Obama “ignored the fact that the Palestinians have not abandoned terror,” and called on the government to reject Obama's call to freeze Jewish growth in Judea and Samaria.

His fellow Jewish Home member, MK Zevulun Orlev, expressed concern as well, saying the speech “raises fears” about America's relationship with Israel. Obama's words suggested that the American commitment to Israel's security may be weakening, he said.

The Judea and Samaria (Yesha) Council had harsher criticism, accusing Obama of “giving priority to Arab lies.” Obama referred in his speech to Palestinian Authority Arabs, saying, “For more than 60 years they have endured the pain of dislocation” -- attributing Arab suffering to the creation of the state of Israel, and not to the Six Day War, when Israel took control of Judea, Samaria and Gaza.

The council blamed weak Israeli public relations for America's acceptance of the Arab narrative, saying “the Jewish truth... has been said in a weak and unsure voice.”