President Barack Obama was given a rapturous reception by Israeli students on Thursday as he made a rousing call for peace with the Palestinians, but his lofty oratory got lower marks beyond the conference hall.
Urging the younger generation to push politicians for change, Obama said a concerted effort must be made to secure an independent Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel.
The youthful audience repeatedly interrupted Obama with loud applause, holding up their cell phones to film his performance and giving him a standing ovation after a lone heckler was whisked away by security staff.
“He is a president who is also a rockstar. It’s amazing. He knows how to touch the hearts of the people,” said Gur Wallner, 25, a media student from the southern Israeli town of Sapir.
Israeli and Palestinian political leaders, however, were significantly less enthusiastic about his speech, which was billed as the highlight of Obama’s three-day visit.
“A Palestinian state is not the right way forward,” said Naftali Bennett, head of the pro-settler Jewish Home party, who was recently appointed industry and trade minister in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new centre-right coalition.
Bennett dismissed Obama’s call for an end to the occupation of territory seized in the 1967 Middle East war, suggesting the land belonged to Israel.
“There is no such thing as a nation being an occupier in its own land,” Bennett said in a comment pasted on Facebook.
A short distance away in the occupied West Bank, few Palestinians appeared to believe that Obama’s appeal would bring swift results and expressed disappointment that Washington did not appear ready to apply effective pressure on Israel.