Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu praised US President Barack Obama for winning the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, while Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said the occasion meant little for the Palestinians.
Netanyahu passed his congratulations on to US special envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell during a meeting between the two in Jerusalem, the Prime Minister's Office told The Jerusalem Post. Netanyahu later praised Obama personally through a letter sent to the White House.
"You have already inspired so many people around the world, and I know that this award also expresses the hope that your Presidency will usher in a new era of peace and reconciliation," Netanyahu wrote.
"Nowhere is such a peace needed more than in the Middle East, a region that has been long marked by terror and bloodshed. I look forward to working closely with you in the years ahead to advance peace and to give hope to the peoples of our region who deserve to live in peace, security and dignity."
Former Israeli UN ambassador Dan Gillerman, however, said that while he hoped Obama would live up to the expectations the Nobel committee had vested in him, he was surprised at the decision.
"I'm a little surprised at the choice, not because I don't appreciate the efforts of the president of the United States for peace, but because in my opinion the test is in the results and not in the attempt," Gillerman told Israel Radio.
"I think that at this time he has done very little, at least from the point of view of results," he said. "This choice is somewhat premature."
President Shimon Peres also sent a letter of congratulations to Obama, telling the American leader that under his leadership, peace became a "real and original agenda."
"Very few leaders if at all were able to change the mood of the entire world in such a short while with such profound impact. You provided all of humanity with fresh hope, with intellectual determination, and a feeling that there is a Lord in heaven and believers on Earth," Peres, himself a 1994 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, wrote to Obama.
"Under your leadership, peace became a real and original agenda. And from Jerusalem, I am sure all the bells of engagement and understanding will ring again. You gave us a license to dream and act in a noble direction," the president concluded.
Earlier, Defense Minister Ehud Barak was the first Israeli official to congratulate Obama, expressing hope that the award would help the US president in his efforts to bring peace to the region.
"Reaching peace with our neighbors is a top priority for Israel," Barak said. "I believe the Nobel Prize will empower President Barack Obama in his efforts to bring regional peace to the Middle East, as well as to an agreement between ourselves and the Palestinians, resulting in peace and prosperity for all the nations in the region."
Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh in the Gaza Strip said on Friday his group heard Obama's speeches seeking better relations with the Islamic world but had not been moved.
"We are in need of actions, not sayings," Haniyeh said. "If there is no fundamental and true change in American policies toward the acknowledgment of the rights of the Palestinian people, I think this prize won't move us forward or backward."
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin described the choice of Obama from among the more than 200 candidates as "quite strange."
"A Nobel Prize is given to someone who has carried out a mission. Obama's mission was to reach the White House - and maybe for that he deserves a prize - but not the Nobel Peace Prize. The Nobel Peace Prize is given for results and not for plans - but strange are the ways of the world," Rivlin told Israel Radio.
He added that he fears "giving the prize to Obama could lead to the forcing of steps upon Israel. I fear that the prize was given him so that he will carry out his plans, which may well be completely incorrect and in opposition to the State of Israel's interests."
MK Ophir Paz-Pines called upon Rivlin to "immediately retract his statements.
"Rivlin is the chairman of all of the country's Knesset and not of the extreme Right's. It is not appropriate that someone in such a position makes statements against Obama's receipt of the prize."
"The Knesset speaker speaks in the name of the entire Knesset, and it is not appropriate that the voice of the Knesset on this day is so exceptional, so cut-off and so critical relative to the voices coming out from all other world leaders," Paz-Pines said. "The prize to Obama will give a push to all peace-seekers throughout the world and in Israel and will emphasize that the way today to solve international conflicts is to achieve peace. This is an important message. Peace is not a disease or a dirty word, and there is nothing to fear in it."