Netanyahu: I'm Looking Forward to Working With Obama

PM calls Israel-U.S. ties 'rock solid', but some Likud politicians warn of tough times ahead for Israel; Blair says he expects Obama to bring 'new plan' to peace process.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday congratulated U.S. President Barack Obama's on his reelection, telling U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro that security relations between the two countries are "rock solid."

Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and negotiator Saeb Erekat said they were pleased with Obama's victory, asking him to oppose Israel's settlement-building and support the Palestinians' bid for greater recognition in the United Nations. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, now an international envoy to Israel and the Palestinian territories, said he expected Obama in his second term to tackle the long-stalled peace process with a "renewed sense of momentum and a plan to move it forward."

In a meeting in the prime minister's residence, Netanyahu told Shapiro: "America has proven once again why it's the greatest democracy in the world."

He said he was looking forward to working with Obama on strengthening U.S.-Israeli ties and promoting peace and security. In a statement issued shortly after the results of the U.S. election were announced, Netanyahu said "the strategic alliance between Israel the U.S. is stronger than ever."

Abbas and Erekat both said they were hopeful Obama will pressure Israel to withdraw to the pre-1967 borders, act against "settlement activities," and support the PA's bid at the UN, WAFA, the PA's semi-official news agency, reported.

"We have decided to take the Palestinian issue to the UN, and we hope that Obama will stand by this Palestinian right," Erekat said. "What Obama needs to do is stop the Israeli settlement policy and not act to stop the Palestinian activity at the UN."

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that "together with President Obama we will continue to develop and preserve the great friendship between our states and peoples. We will continue to work with the United States to strengthen the state of Israel and protect its strategic needs."

Defense Minister Ehud Barak said in a statement that he has "no doubt that the Obama administration will continue its policy - whereby Israel's security is at its very foundations - as well as its efforts to tackle the challenges facing all of us in the region, all the while continuing to strive for further progress in the peace process.

"I believe that in the tradition of deep friendship and with a backdrop of shared experiences accrued with President Obama, it will also be possible to overcome any differences in stance, should they arise," the statement read.

Opposition leader Shaul Mofaz (Kadima ) said he was "convinced that President Obama and the American people will continue to stand at Israel's side as true friends and partners ..."

A sharply dissenting view came from MK Ayoub Kara (Likud ), who declared: "The truth must be said. This leopard is likely to change its spots and to be very dangerous for Israel."

Blair, envoy of the Middle East Quartet, told Reuters he did not believe the United States had lost interest in the decades-old conflict, adding that he hoped to see a fresh initiative soon.

"I think President Obama's re-election gives us the chance to go back into it with a renewed sense of momentum and a plan to move it forward. I think, expect, hope that this is what will happen," he said, speaking from his Jerusalem offices.

Given the numerous hurdles on the road to peace, many analysts have questioned whether Obama will want to expend any further political capital on the Middle East conflict after his first-term efforts ended in failure and acrimony.

"I don't think there has been any change in President Obama's view, which is that it is in the strategic interest of the United States and the world that a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian issue is found," Blair said.

Earlier, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, said it was unrealistic to think Obama would choose to ignore the Palestinian issue in his second term.

"It always finds its way back onto the agenda. You can't expect this to go away or remain on the back-burner," he said, without offering a prediction of what Obama might do.

Blair also declined to comment on future steps, saying only that it was important to find the correct framework for talks.

"My view is that this issue remains fundamentally important and can be resolved. I have no doubts it can be, but whether it will be is another matter."

Regarding the Palestinian move at the UN, which the United States, Israel and some Western countries have opposed, Blair declined to endorse or condemn it, but warned against hasty reactions.

"We have to understand the position the Palestinians find themselves in. ... It is very much in our interests to offer them a way forward that allows us one way or another to get back to the negotiating table."

Blair said he understood Palestinian frustration, but dismissed suggestions that, with more than 500,000 Israelis now living on land seized in the 1967 war, the two-state solution was dead.

It is very fashionable at the moment to say the two-state solution is not going to work. Just examine the alternative for a moment. What does a one-state solution mean? It means you institutionalize conflict right at the heart of whatever that state might look like," he said.