Obama assures leaders Israel will retain Jewish areas

Some US Jewish leaders who met with the president think he was referring to J'lem, which is significant, yet others say he was ambiguous.

March 3, 2011 23:19
3 minute read.
President Obama

Obama 311 reuters. (photo credit: Reuters)

WASHINGTON – In addressing the contours of a future peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians, US President Barack Obama assured Jewish leaders in a recent meeting that Jewish areas would stay in Israel’s hands, according to many participants.

Several of those at the meeting, held Tuesday at the White House, said they understood the president to be referring to Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem, a final-status issue that he described as “difficult.”

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Though the sides have long discussed various formulations under which certain Arab areas of east Jerusalem would become part of a future Palestinian state, Obama’s comments come after tensions between his administration and the Netanyahu government over Jewish construction in east Jerusalem.

Recent decisions to expand construction in Ramot, Ramat Shlomo and other Jewish neighborhoods over the Green Line have been met with stern rebukes by the United States and labeled obstacles to peace by American officials.

Israel has maintained that construction in these areas should be allowed since they would be retained in any peace deal.

Several participants cautioned that the context of Obama’s statements during Tuesday’s meeting were ambiguous and that he did not specify which Jewish enclaves he was referring to. They said he was speaking about the conventional understanding of what a twostate solution would look like, as understood by the parties.

The White House did not respond to a request for confirmation by deadline.

Obama met for over an hour with some 50 members of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations on Tuesday. Those speaking about the details of the meeting with The Jerusalem Post did so on the condition of anonymity.

Following reports that Obama had expressed hostility against Israel in the meeting, the leaders of the conference issued a statement denying he had exhibited such an attitude.

“There was not one note of hostility,” said conference of presidents executive vice chairman Malcolm Hoenlein, distinguishing that sentiment from areas of policy disagreement. Hoenlein emphasized that Obama told the group that America doesn’t have a better friend in the world than Israel.

Some of those who took part in the meeting indicated that they felt Obama placed more of the burden for moving forward with the peace process on Israel and showed little inclination to criticize the Palestinians for the stalemate in peace talks. But others argued that the meeting included critics as well as friends of the administration and that those pre-established viewpoints colored how Obama’s comments were perceived.

One of Obama’s political opponents slammed the president, however, for not sufficiently backing Israel.

Former New York mayor and potential Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani called on the Obama administration “to be more supportive of Israel” and more realistic about what the Jewish state is facing. Giuliani made the comments in an interview with Channel 10, which was scheduled to be aired on Saturday.

Giuliani, who was in Israel this week, rejected the notion that Israel is responsible for the stagnation in the peace process, saying “the ball is in the Palestinians’ domain to solve this problem...I think the movement has to come on the Palestinian side.”

On Tuesday, Giuliani spoke prior to the Haifa Chamber of Commerce and Industry´s 90th anniversary celebrations, saying he had not yet decided whether he will run for US president in 2012. Giuliani also addressed Iran’s nuclear program, stating that he didn’t believe that the military option should be taken off the table.

Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.

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