Axelrod: J'lem last item on agenda

Elie Weisel asks “Why tackle the most sensitive problem prematurely?”

May 5, 2010 04:34
2 minute read.
US President Barack Obama's top adviser David Axel

david axelrod 311 AP. (photo credit: AP)


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WASHINGTON – White House senior adviser David Axelrod told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that Jerusalem will likely be the final issue addressed in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

“Jerusalem as an issue can’t be the first issue for negotiations. It probably will be the last,” Axelrod said, characterizing the position of US President Barack Obama and the message he understood Obama to have conveyed during a lunch meeting with Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel.

The meeting came as US-brokered indirect talks between Israelis and Palestinians are expected to begin in the coming days, despite differences between the sides over whether final-status issues would be discussed. While Israel prefers issues such as Jerusalem to be deferred until direct negotiations, the US has indicated that final-status issues will at least be broached in the early talks as the Palestinians have been demanding.

The issue of Jerusalem derailed the expected start of indirect negotiations in March, when the Interior Ministry approved additional Jewish housing in east Jerusalem during a visit to Israel by Vice President Joe Biden meant to launch the process, a move that infuriated the Americans and the Palestinians.


Wiesel to lunch at White House
Proximity talks to begin Wednesday
'US commitment to Israel unshakable'

The resulting tensions between the US and Israel, which included several public American condemnations of the housing and Israel’s actions, prompted objections from many US Jewish quarters. During that time, in mid-April, Wiesel published an ad in The Washington Post and The New York Times seen as critical of the Obama administration.

Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor and renowned author, wrote in his ad of Jews’ historic connection to Jerusalem and declared that “pressure will not produce a solution.” He also asked, “Why tackle the most complex and sensitive problem prematurely? Why not first take steps which will allow the Israeli and Palestinian communities to find ways to live together in an atmosphere of security? Why not leave the most difficult, the most sensitive issue, for such a time?”

Though Axelrod was not at Tuesday’s lunch, he said he was sure that the issue of the ad had come up, and that the president had reassured Wiesel of his agreement that Jerusalem should not be addressed first.

Other White House officials have said that the US never meant to make an issue of Jerusalem at this point in the process, rather that events – particularly what happened during Biden’s visit – put it on the agenda.

Weisel: It was a meeting between two friends

After the meeting, Wiesel told reporters that in recent weeks “there were moments of tension. But the tension I think is gone, which is good. The relations between Israel and the United States have a history. And that history has always been one of understanding.”

Wiesel declined to discuss specifics of the meeting or the issue of Jewish construction in east Jerusalem, though he noted that the two men had discussed the subject and that when it comes to negotiations, “The process will continue.”

Wiesel described the encounter as “a meeting between two friends, two Nobel Peace laureates,” as well as “a good kosher lunch.”

Axelrod noted that Obama had extended the invitation before the ad’s publication.

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