Israeli Official: Obama's Nobel 'Very Strange'

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The announcement on Friday of the decision to award the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize to President Barack Obama is "very, very strange," Israeli Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin said.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee hailed Obama's "extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples." The committee cited his overtures to the Muslim world and attached special importance to his vision of a world free of nuclear weapons.

In reaction to the award, Rivlin, a senior member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party, said he was concerned that granting Obama the award would encourage some to try to force a peace agreement on Israel.

'Very, Very Strange'

In a radio interview, Rivlin said that a forced peace would not be real or long-lasting, state-run Israel Radio reported. He said awarding the prize to Obama was "very, very strange."

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat welcomed the award and expressed the hope that Obama would be able to achieve peace in the Middle East and the establishment of a Palestinian state.

But in Gaza, Islamic Jihad leader Khaled Al-Batsh condemned the award, saying it only showed that such prizes are "political" and not based on "principles of credibility, values and morals," he told Reuters.

Ongoing Talks

The announcement of the award comes as U.S. envoy George Mitchell is in the region for talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders. But Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Thursday that he did not foresee a peace agreement for years.

Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren said on Thursday Obama's approval ratings in Israel had to improve before the Israeli-Arab peace process could move ahead.

Israelis Opinion on Obama?

Recent opinion polls showed that just four percent of Israelis believe Obama is pro-Israel.

"Those Israelis who are going to make peace with their neighbors are going to be asked to take immense risks, extraordinary risks with themselves, their families, their children," Oren said during a speech at the Washington Hudson Institute think tank on Thursday.

"In order to take those risks, they need to be able to trust the administration. It's crucial," he said, according to Friday's Jerusalem Post.

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