Israel Resource Review 24th July, 2008


Obama Visits Sderot
David Bedein

Sderot, Israel - Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama, accompanied by Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, visited the shell-shocked Israeli city yesterday. He met with city Mayor Eli Moyal and family of Mr. and Mrs. Pinchas and Aliza Amar, whose house was destroyed by a Hamas' Qassam rocket last December Their home still is under construction after being devastated by the attack. "We've been waiting here for over an hour," said Mrs. Racheli Barr, who lives near the Amars. "It is not every day that the next president of the United States comes to see our situation."

The Amar family greeted Mr. Obama with a framed picture of Pinchas and Aliza in their house after the rocket struck as well as a bamboo stalk to symbolize their hopes for him.

"The meaning of the bamboo is that if you take care of it and it blossoms, so shall you," Mrs. Amar said. "But if you do not take care of it, and it withers, you will follow the same path."

After meeting with the family, Mr. Obama crossed the street to shake hands and briefly speak with several bystanders. Leading up to the visit, the Amars had high hopes for Mr. Obama.

"It shows that Obama knows it is better to be close to the people as a leader, rather than to be like a king who only rules from the throne," Mr. Amar said." I don't feel like we have to tell [Obama] a lot because he understands poverty and struggle [from a personal standpoint]." This visit has also strengthened the family's resolve and excitement to return to their home once it is built, despite an eight-month struggle through legal "red tape" to reach a compromise with the government allowing its rebuilding.

"It is a special place," Mrs. Amar said. "When they called to say they wanted to visit our house, we told them that it was in the middle of construction, but we were told that he wanted to see our home."

Sen. John McCain had visited the Amars' home only a few months before, as had German diplomats as well as other foreign representatives. "There must be a reason why foreign officials visit our house," Mrs. Amar said.

At a press conference in Sderot, following his visit to the Amar home, Mr. Obama said he endorses Israel's right to defend itself against rockets. "If someone were sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I would do anything to stop it," Mr. Obama said.

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Obama Visits Sderot 1
Dr. Aaron Lerner

"I can assure you," Barak Obama said, speaking at the local police station against a backdrop of Kassam rockets, "if someone was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I'm going to do everything in my power to stop that, and I would expect Israelis to do the same thing."

He would expect Israelis to do the same thing.

But they didn't.

Here is PM Olmert admitting that:

"We hope that we will not have to act against Hamas in other ways with the military power that Israel has not yet started to use in a serious manner in order to stop it."

Joint Statements by PM Olmert and US Pres. Bush Israel Government Press Office Wednesday, May 14, 2008 ]

Candidate Obama talks tough during lightning visit July 23, 2008 Herb Keinon , THE JERUSALEM POST /servlet/Satellite?cid=1215331063647&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull

US presidential hopeful Barack Obama empathized deeply with Israelis' feelings of insecurity and talked tough on Iran during a whirlwind 36-hour campaign stop here on Wednesday.

The Illinois senator arrived in Sderot in the late afternoon, after a marathon day of meetings and campaign photo opportunities that began with a breakfast with Defense Minister Ehud Barak, followed by a visit to Yad Vashem, a meeting with President Shimon Peres, a drive to Ramallah and meetings with the Palestinian Authority's President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salaam Fayad, a return trip to Jerusalem for a meeting with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, and then a helicopter ride down to Sderot with Livni and Barak.

Obama met for dinner with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and was then was scheduled for a late-night visit to the Western Wall. Iran featured prominently in Olmert's talks with the candidate.

Looking a bit tired, Obama used a press conference in Sderot to address key issues on the minds of Jewish voters and other Israel supporters in the US, as well as matters of concerns to Israelis.

"I can assure you," he said, speaking at the local police station against a backdrop of Kassam rockets, "if someone was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I'm going to do everything in my power to stop that, and I would expect Israelis to do the same thing."

He tried to put to rest concerns that an Obama administration would be characterized by pressuring Israel to make concessions, saying that no one who spoke with him on Wednesday "got any sense that I would be pressuring them to accept any kinds of concessions that would put their security at stake.

"We don't want a peace deal just to have a piece of paper that doesn't result in peace. We need something that is meaningful, and it is not going to be meaningful if Israel's security is not part of that package."

While saying that true security would be difficult to attain with hostile neighbors just a few miles away, Obama said he thought Israel had to ensure that "peace is not purchased by putting Israel's security at risk, and it is the job of the US, I think, to make sure that that peace is centered and promotes Israel's long term security."

Obama took a tough stand against Iran, saying he would use "big carrots and big sticks" in dealing with the regime, and that while he wanted to pursue the diplomatic track, "I would take no options off the table."

"Understand part of my reasoning here," he said. "A nuclear Iran will be a game-changing situation, not just in the Middle East but around the world."

The senator said a nuclear Iran would lead to the disintegration of the non-proliferation framework, and a nuclear arms race throughout the Middle East.

"Many of these countries, including Iran, have ties to terrorist organizations, and suddenly you could have lost nuclear materials falling into the hands of terrorists, " he said, defining that as a threat not only to Israel, but also to the US.

Obama said he was not naive about the nature of the Iranian regime, and that he wanted "tough, serious direct diplomacy" because "if we show ourselves willing to talk and to offer carrots and sticks in order to deal with these pressing problems, and if Iran then rejects overtures of that sort, it puts us in a stronger position to mobilize the international community to ratchet up the pressure on Iran."

Obama was asked about his speech to AIPAC speech last month in which he talked of an undivided Jerusalem as Israel's capital, but backed down later when he clarified that the future of Jerusalem had to be decided in negotiations.

"I didn't change my statement," Obama said. "I continue to say that Jerusalem will be the capital of Israel. I have said that before and will say it again. I have also said that it is important that you don't simply slice the city in half. But I've also said that this is a final status issue, an issue that has to be dealt with by the parties involved, the Palestinians and the Israelis. It is not the job of the US to dictate the form which that will take, but rather to support the efforts that are being made right now to resolve these very difficult issues that have a long history."

After the press conference in Sderot, Obama received a white T-shirt from Mayor Eli Moyal that read "I (heart) Sderot," with a rocket through the heart. Earlier he met briefly with Asher Twito, an eight-year-old Sderot boy who lost a leg to a Gazan rocket.

Twito gave Obama a hat, and the senator, according to those present, was touched by the gift.

Obama referred to Twito in his prepared statement at the press conference, saying the youngster epitomized the courage and resilience of the people of Sderot and of Israel.

Earlier in the day, before his meeting with Peres, Obama said the purpose of his trip, paid for by his campaign, was to "reaffirm the special relationship between Israel and the United States and my abiding commitment to Israel's security and my hope that I can serve as an effective partner, whether as a US senator or as president."

Obama joked with Peres, after praising him, that he wanted to get from him the "recipe for looking as good he does."

Obama's long day began with a meeting with Barak that, according to a statement released by the Defense Ministry, included a "vigorous and intense discussion touching on all the basic issues and future challenges facing Israel and the free world in the region."

After the Barak meeting, Obama met opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu said he was impressed with Obama's understanding of the Iranian threat and that they both agreed that a nuclear Iran was unacceptable.

The opposition leader stressed that they also agreed that what was important was the end result of preventing a nuclear Teheran, rather than the means of how to accomplish that, and that when it came to stopping Iran there were no politics.

Netanyahu also outlined his plan for economic peace with the Palestinians, and Obama told him he agreed that quality of life was connected to security.

Obama said, "I'll never compromise Israel's security. Terrorism is not theoretical, it's right here a block away from this hotel, and it must be fought with full force and strength."

Tuesday's bulldozer attack took place just down the street from the King David Hotel where Obama was staying.

Netanyahu was joined in the meeting by his foreign policy advisers Dore Gold, Uzi Arad, Zalman Shoval and Ron Dermer.

At Yad Vashem, which Obama visited when he was here in 2006 for the first time, he laid a wreath in the memorial hall and wrote in the visitors book, "At a time of great peril and torment, war and strife, we are blessed to have such a powerful reminder of man's potential for great evil, but also our capacity to rise up from tragedy and remake our world."

He said he would like to bring his two young daughters to the site on his next visit.

While in Sderot, during a meeting with Public Security Minister Avi Dichter, Dichter, an Ashkelon resident, told Obama what it was like living and raising a family within missile range of the Gaza Strip. He also spoke of his mother, an 85-year-old Holocaust survivor also living in Ashkelon, who he said was again living in a reality of constant threats, this time from Kassam rockets.

Obama, who arrived Tuesday evening from Jordan, was scheduled to leave early Thursday morning for Germany.

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"Obama's Visit & Policies"
Arlene Kushner

Obama's whirlwind tour of Israel is completed, and I find that readers are seeking comments on that visit. He did it all right while here: Visiting Yad VaShem (the Holocaust Memorial -- required stop for all visiting dignitaries), Sderot, the Kotel -- making appropriate comments in each place, and meeting with top leaders.

If there was any concern I had, it was that Obama saw fit to pay a visit to Ramallah and meet with Abbas and Fayyad -- something McCain opted not to do when he was here. There was no press conference from Ramallah -- it is my impression that he was seeking to keep this low key.

From Aaron Klein at WorldNetDaily comes a report from someone who attended Obama's meeting with Abbas. Obama reportedly assured PA leadership that there was a "misunderstanding" with regard to his statement about an undivided Jerusalem -- a mistake he corrected immediately. This PA official said Obama told them he supports a negotiated settlement that would give the Palestinians territory in Jerusalem. He also expressed "full understanding" regarding the need for Israel to halt "settlement activity."


Israeli historian Dr. Michael Oren recently provided an analysis of the positions of the two candidates with regard to Israel, and I would like to share highlights here. There are genuine differences:

-- "While McCain has avoided criticizing Israel's settlement policy and balked at delineating the contours of 'Palestine,' Obama has impugned the settlements and taken up Bush's call for a 'contiguous' Palestinian state free of Israeli roadblocks and joined by West Bank-to-Gaza routes.

-- "McCain . . . has emphasized the Palestinian Authority's duty to clamp down on terror in accordance with the Road Map. 'We must ensure that Israel's people can live in safety until there is a Palestinian leadership willing and able to deliver peace,' he stated. Obama, by contrast, has refrained from mentioning the PA's responsibility in suppressing terror.

-- "Obama has expressed strong reservations about the Israeli right, complaining to American Jewish leaders that 'there is a strain within the pro-Israel community that says unless you adopt an unwavering pro-Likud approach to Israel then you're anti-Israel.' He has also welcomed the renewal of peace talks between Israel and Syria . . . McCain, however, has not revealed a preference for one Israeli party over another and has withheld comment on the Syria-Israeli discussions.

-- the Democratic contender seems less adamant than his Republican rival in opposing all communications with Hamas. Obama waited five days before distancing himself from former President Jimmy Carter's meetings with Hamas officials; McCain condemned them instantly. And while McCain withheld comment on Israel's ceasefire with Hamas, Obama greeted it as an opportunity to 'bring calm to the people of southern Israel, improve life for Palestinians in Gaza, and lead to the release of [captured Israeli corporal] Gilad Shalit.'"


As to Dr. Oren's predictions for the path each candidate would take as president:

"While both aspirants will honor Bush's pro-Israel legacy and actively pursue peace, McCain would be less prone than Obama to pressure Israel for concessions and more inclined to take the Palestinian Authority to task for its Road Map infractions. Obama may prove more flexible than McCain in admitting some role for Hamas in negotiations and recognizing Palestinian claims to Jerusalem. McCain would preserve and Obama would renounce much of his predecessor's policies on preemption and the war on terror . . .

"McCain is unlikely to ratchet up pressure on Israel, to oppose Israeli claims to Jerusalem, or to link the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with any of the region's manifold struggles. He will not deal with Hamas, even in context of the national unity government that the organization is currently considering with the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

"An Obama presidency, however, may well launch an entirely new initiative, one based on zero tolerance for Israeli settlement-building and checkpoints, as well as on the belief that the road to Baghdad and Teheran runs through Bethlehem and Nablus. Obama might be expected to show deeper sympathy for the Palestinian demand for a capital in Jerusalem and greater flexibility in including Hamas in negotiations, if only indirectly, through the national unity coalition with Abbas."


You might also want to see an article entitled, "Where Does Obama's Foreign Policy Take Us," by Kory Bardash and Abraham Katsman: "The candidates . . . differ on the core issue of whether the Israeli-Palestinian [conflict] is the cause of the rest of the region's woes, or vice 'infect(s) all of our foreign policy' and 'provides an excuse for anti-American militant jihadists.' That is a formulation that suggests heavy Israeli concessions to achieve 'peace' at any cost.

"McCain, on the other hand, sees the opposite -- that Islamic fanaticism is the obstacle to Israeli-Palestinian peace: '[I]f the Israeli-Palestinian issue were decided tomorrow, we would still face the enormous threat of radical Islamic extremism.' According to Dr. Oren, neither McCain nor any of his advisors have indicated a readiness to apply greater pressure on Israel."

And I will say forthrightly that it is McCain's conceptualization that is correct.


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