WASHINGTON - US President Barack Obama will address the General Assembly of the United Jewish Communities when it convenes in Washington in mid-November, organizers announced Friday.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will also attend the event, and is likely to meet with Obama as well. Though there was no official announcement, it's traditional for the prime minister to get together with the US president on a visit to Washington, and it would be highly unusual for them to appear at the same event and not have a meeting.
A White House spokesman did not respond to a query from The Jerusalem Post Friday, following the announcement of Obama's participation in the conference. However, a source with knowledge of the situation said that the White House had not made a final call on an Obama-Netanyahu meeting, and felt somewhat taken aback by the report. But he said that he did not expect that to derail efforts to arrange a meeting.
The GA of the UJC/The Jewish Federations of North America is one of the largest communal gathering of Jewish activists in the country, with thousands traditionally attending the multi-day conference. The UJC is the umbrella organization for more than 150 federations across the United States and Canada, and members of Congress and the Knesset are also expected to attend.
This year's meeting will run from November 8-10. Obama is scheduled to speak on November 9.
His appearance comes at a time of concern from some quarters of the American Jewish community on his stance toward Israel, particularly given his extremely low approval ratings with the Israeli public. His speech will be the first to a Jewish audience at a public event since his election last fall.
It also comes at a time when Obama's efforts to restart the peace process have faltered. Despite intensive negotiations and repeat visits from Israeli and Palestinian officials this past week with US Middle East envoy George Mitchell, there was no breakthrough.
That set the stage for a downbeat report from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the president late Thursday, one he had asked for in a bid to push the sides to make progress quickly.
Obama had announced his request for the report following the three-way meeting between himself, Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in New York in September, a much-touted parley that also yielded few results. That encounter, preceded by a one-on-one conversation between Obama and Netanyahu, was the last time the two leaders met.
In her report, according to a statement from a White House official, "The secretary advised the president that challenges remain as the United States continues to work with both sides to relaunch negotiations in an atmosphere in which they can succeed."
The report noted the "progress that has been made on a number of issues," including the Palestinians having strengthened their efforts on security and reforming Palestinian institutions, though she said that "they need to do more in these areas and on stopping incitement and preventing terror."
Clinton commended Israelis for having "facilitated greater movement for Palestinians and responded to our call to stop all settlement activity by expressing a willingness to curtail settlement activity."
But she added that "they need to translate that willingness into real, meaningful action and do more to improve the daily lives of Palestinians."
She called on both sides to "move forward toward direct negotiations," a demand articulated by Obama himself in September.
She did not mention the Arab states, from whom the US administration had been seeking gestures of normalization toward Israel as part of restarting the talks and adding momentum to the process. Arab countries have largely refused to take such steps.
The White House statement did note, though, that Clinton would be consulting with Arab foreign ministers in Morocco during a previously announced trip to take place on November 2.
There had also been speculation that she would travel to Israel then, after announcements by several members of the Israeli government that she would soon be visiting, but nothing on that score has been announced or acknowledged by the State Department.
In the meantime, Mitchell will be returning to the region in the near future.