Obama reassures Jewish donors on strong support for Israel

"US and Israel will always be stalwart allies and friends," Obama tells group of Americans in Support of a Strong US-Israel Relationship.

By HILARY LEILA KRIEGER, JPOST CORRESPONDENT
June 21, 2011 05:14
3 minute read.
Obama meets with Netanyahu in the Oval Office

Obama, Netanyahu meeting in Washington GALLERY 465 (R) 5. (photo credit: Avi Ohayon / GPO)

 
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WASHINGTON – US President Barack Obama attempted to reassure Jewish backers over his support for Israel at a Democratic party fundraiser on Monday night, stressing his commitment to the Jewish state even as he called for its leaders to be open to new ways of thinking.

Referring to the changing Middle East and the challenges it presents, Obama told a group of Democratic donors billing themselves as Americans in Support of a Strong US-Israel Relationship that “both the United States and Israel are going to have to look at this new landscape with fresh eyes.”

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He stressed the importance of engagement and creativity, saying, “It’s not going to be sufficient for us just to keep on doing the same things we’ve been doing and expect somehow that things are going to work themselves out.”

Obama acknowledged that there would likely be “tactical disagreements” over moving forward in the next months and years, but said these views diverged over strategy rather than principle.

He urged those in the room, who were reported to have each contributed upwards of $25,000 to attend the sold-out event, to play a role in “helping to shape how both Americans and Israelis think about the opportunities and challenges.” He underscored Jews’ connection to their ancient homeland – an issue that some have felt he has downplayed in the past – as well his administration’s strong support of Israel.

He described his “most important message” of the evening as, despite the challenges in the region, that the “one inviolable principle will be that the United States and Israel will always be stalwart allies and friends, that that bond isn’t breakable and that Israel’s security will always be at the top tier of considerations in terms of how America manages its foreign policy.”

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The press was escorted from the Democratic National Committee fundraiser before the question and answer session, though Obama was heard to say on the way out: “I purposely made those remarks short because this looks like a pretty opinionated group.”

Obama’s remarks came as even some supporters in the Democratic party, as well as many external critics, have questioned where the president stands on Israel and his approach to the region. Those questions carry political significance in the run-up to his 2012 reelection campaign and the importance of attracting donors, particularly from the Jewish community.

He also spoke as his envoy to the region, David Hale, and his top Middle East adviser, Dennis Ross, wrapped up trips seeking to prod the Israelis and Palestinians along to talks after months of stalemate and the prospect of a unilateral Palestinian declaration of statehood at the UN in September.

A senior administration official acknowledged on Tuesday that “the difficult task of closing the gaps between the parties,” gaps he described as “challenging,” was ongoing.

He said the US is attempting to find out whether the elements that Obama last month laid out for overcoming the impasse between the sides – including that the 1967 lines with mutually agreed land swaps should form the basis of a Palestinian state’s borders – could serve as a foundation for moving forward.

“It’s time for some tough decisions,” the official stressed.

One sign of the hurdles in the peace process is that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas recently entered into a power-sharing agreement with Hamas, a US-designated terrorist organization that America has said Israel has no obligation to negotiate with.

However, the official said that since the talks to form that PA government have stalled, “right now we’re dealing with a wait-and-see attitude,” and that the US still hopes that the two sides can make progress in the meantime.

“We will be judging our ability to provide assistance and have a relationship with the Palestinian government that might emerge from reconciliation based on the composition of that government,” he said.

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