WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama told US Jewish leaders Thursday that he
would not be bringing a peace plan with him on his trip to Israel this month,
but left the door open to a diplomatic initiative later in his term, according
to meeting participants.
Obama met with nearly two dozen leaders in an
offthe- record briefing that lasted over an hour and touched on Iran, Turkey and
Hezbollah as well as the Palestinian issue.
“The president started by
saying he was not interested in delivering a peace plan.
He wants to
listen to where the parties stand and focus on region issues” such as Syrian and
Egypt, according to one person familiar with the meeting who spoke to The
Jerusalem Post on the condition of anonymity.
Speaking of the peace
process again later on, the source said, Obama told the group that “he intends
to focus on it, to see how he can help move things further along.”
by one participant separately about the stance of the Europeans, noting that
they supported the Palestinians in their bid for unilateral statehood, Obama was
said to have agreed that the EU has taken a flawed approach that has hindered US
efforts such as getting the EU to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist
But he added that their perspective comes from deep
frustration that there’s no peace process. One participant said that Obama also
indicated that frustration was felt by some in the administration and it was an
attitude that had to be dealt with.
Obama also criticized the statements
made by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan equating Zionism with a crime
against humanity, and said he had personally instructed Secretary of State John
Kerry to speak out against the comments.
At one point, a Jewish leader in
the meeting pressed the president to articulate a harder line on Iran, arguing
such statements were important.
The president, participants said,
reiterated his long-held positions that all options are on the table when
dealing with Iran and that the United States was dedicated to preventing Iran
from obtaining a nuclear weapon rather than containing one.
stressed that diplomacy was the preferable path and that it was important the US
offered Iranian leaders a ladder to climb down from the positions they have
Meeting attendee Nathan Diament, Washington director of the
Orthodox Union, urged the president to stress the Jewish connection to the Land
of Israel when he speaks publicly during the trip.
Though Obama did not
go into detail about what he would be telling the Israeli people on his visit,
he did note that he had turned down an opportunity to address the Knesset in
favor of delivering a speech to students at the Jerusalem Convention Center. He
explained that he wanted to reach out to young people rather than
Obama, according to participants, who described the
conversation as warm, also spoke of his interest in seeing Israel societal and
technological achievements during his trip.
Jerry Silverman, president of
The Federations of North America, who attended Thursday’s meeting, welcomed
Obama’s taking time to meet with Jewish leaders ahead of his trip in two
“We are proud to see our president visit our ancient homeland and
engage with the Israeli people,” he said.
“The president’s trip is yet
another demonstration of the continued strength of the deep and historic bonds
between the United States and Israel.”