WASHINGTON – US President Barack Obama held his first official meeting with
members of the Arab-American community Monday afternoon ahead of his trip to the
Middle East next week.
In the off-the-record meeting, participants said
the president spoke of his intentions regarding his upcoming trip and solicited
suggestions about how to reach out to Palestinians during his visit, which will
include stops in Israel, the West Bank and Jordan.
“He underscored that
the trip is an opportunity for him to demonstrate the United States’s commitment
to the Palestinian people – in the West Bank and Gaza – and to partnering with
the Palestinian Authority as it continues building institutions that will be
necessary to bring about a truly independent Palestinian state,” a White House
official said following the meeting.
His meeting with representatives of
the Arab American Institute, American Task Force on Palestine, American-Arab
Anti-Discrimination Committee and American Federation of Ramallah Palestine
comes four days after a similar meeting with Jewish leaders last
In that meeting the president emphasized that he was not
planning to deliver a specific peace plan and was looking to engage leaders on
regional issues including Syria, Egypt and Iran.
The White House official
said that on Monday, “the president noted that the trip is not dedicated to
resolving a specific policy issue, but is rather a chance to consult with
Jordanian, Israeli and Palestinian Authority officials about a broad range of
Though Obama has met several times with members of the Jewish
community, Monday’s gathering was the first time he had done so with
Arab-American groups, participants said.
“He met with us, that’s what
matters, and it was a great meeting,” said James Zogby, president of the Arab
American Institute, who attended Monday’s meeting.
“It’s good that it
took place,” said American Task Force on Palestine president Ziad Asali, who
also participated Monday.
He noted, however, that it was important that
there be not only meetings and a visit to the region, but follow-up
Zogby said that in the meeting he referred to cynicism and
despair among the Palestinians that their situation will change, and how it is
important that Obama take the opportunity to speak directly to the Palestinian
people – and not just its leadership – about his vision and
“Palestinians have a sense that the US has a capacity to make
a difference,” he said, referring to polling he has conducted on the topic. “But
their feeling is that their voices aren’t being heard, their concerns around
understood, and the the US just isn’t going to act.”
JTA contributed to