White House candidate Barack Obama lauded the "miracle" of Israel on Wednesday, as he met top officials and paid homage to Holocaust victims on the latest leg of his international campaign swing.
The Democratic senator, on a sprint through the Middle East and Europe designed to convince American voters of his presidential mettle, also travelled to the West Bank to consult Palestinian leaders on sluggish peace moves.
He angered Palestinians last month by saying an undivided Jerusalem must remain Israel’s "capital", while the Palestinians want the occupied eastern sector of the city as the capital of their promised future state.
Obama opened his day with talks with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who was later set to join him on a helicopter tour of Israel’s cramped topography, a rite of passage for potential US presidents.
He also toured Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial to the six million Jews who perished under the Nazis. Wearing a white kippa, Obama laid a wreath at the Hall of Remembrance, where ashes recovered from Nazi extermination chambers are interred.
Obama, who leads Republican rival John McCain in most opinion polls, also paid his respects to president Shimon Peres, saying he had been a key player for most of Israel’s 60 years.
"You have been deeply involved in this miracle that has blossomed and we are extraordinarily grateful not just as Americans but as world citizens for your outstanding service to your country," Obama said.
Meeting with Abbas
Obama, who has promised to work for peace from his first day in office, if elected, later travelled in a motorcade to Ramallah for talks with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas.
On Tuesday, he said peace hopes were dimmed because Palestinian politics was divided between Abbas’s secular Fatah party and the Islamists of Hamas, and turmoil was wracking Israel’s fragile government.
"It is a very difficult process. There is a lot of history that exists between those two people. That history is not going to vanish overnight. So I think it’s unrealistic to expect that a US president alone can suddenly snap his fingers and bring about peace in this region."
Many Palestinians welcome the change that Obama might represent after eight years with little to show from the administration of George W. Bush, but they think it’s unlikely he will bring about an end to the decades-old conflict.
Although Obama is trying to forge early ties with foreign leaders, much of the audience for his trip is back at home, and he is being especially watched by the powerful American Jewish community. The Illinois senator has so far yet to score the near 80 percent support among Jewish Americans enjoyed by such previous Democratic candidates as Bill Clinton, Al Gore and John Kerry.
Obama, who has already visited Kuwait, Afghanistan, Iraq and Jordan, heads on to three stops in Europe, beginning with Berlin on Thursday.
(AFP via Alarabiya)