Obama: Palestinian refugees can't return

Presidential candidate debunks report of radical Wahabi upbringing to Jewish and Israeli press.

us special 2 224 (photo credit: )
us special 2 224
(photo credit: )
Palestinian refugees belong in their own state and do not have a "literal" right of return to Israel, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama said Monday. "The outlines of any agreement would involve ensuring that Israel remains a Jewish state," Obama told The Jerusalem Post and other members of the Jewish and Israeli press on a conference call. He reiterated his support for a two-state solution, but said, "We cannot move forward until there is some confidence that the Palestinians are able to provide the security apparatus that would prevent constant attacks against Israel from taking place." His conversation with reporters and his support for the Israeli position on refugees came on the heels of scurrilous charges that Obama is secretly a Muslim who received a radical Wahhabi education. Obama concluded the phone call by stressing how wrong the accusations were. "There has been a constant and virulent smear campaign via the Internet that has been particularly targeted against the Jewish community," he said. "It is absolutely false. I have never practiced Islam. I was raised by my secular mother, and I have been a member of the Christian religion and an active Christian." Obama said he wanted to speak personally on the subject so that voters in the Jewish community could hear "from the horse's mouth" that "there is no substance there and that there is a strong and deep commitment and connection to the Jewish community that should not be questioned." Obama's campaign has taken several steps to debunk the falsehoods in circulation, including sending out a flier in South Carolina emphasizing his Christian convictions - a move that upset some Jewish groups. Obama won South Carolina handily to add momentum to his tight primary race with Sen. Hillary Clinton. They will face off again on February 5, as many of the country's largest states - with the nation's largest Jewish populations - vote. Obama has also recently articulated stances in support of Israel and Jewish issues, including his comments during the conference call, as well as a letter he sent Tuesday urging that America not endorse a UN Security Council resolution on Gaza that doesn't condemn Hamas's rocket attacks on Israel. "The right of return [to Israel] is something that is not an option in a literal sense," Obama said during the call - though he noted, "The Palestinians have a legitimate concern that a state have a contiguous coherent mass that would allow the state to function effectively." Regarding Iran, he called for more pressure on the regime, as a divestment bill he sponsored advocates, but didn't mention the possibility of using force. He also said that "carrots" needed to be offered, while a spokesman said that he believed there should be low- and mid-level diplomatic contacts between the United States and Iran. "Diplomacy is not just talking with your friends, but talking to our enemies," Obama said. "We want to send a signal to the Iranian people that we are reasonable. We are not looking to impede Iran's legitimate national aspirations, but they have to change their behavior."