Obama meets with Arab-American leaders

White House official says US president underscored that upcoming trip to Middle East is an opportunity for him to demonstrate the US commitment to the Palestinian people.

Obama and Airforce One 521 (photo credit: JASON REED / REUTERS)
Obama and Airforce One 521
(photo credit: JASON REED / REUTERS)
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 Thursday.
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 issues.”
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 afterwards.
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 commitment.
“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 this report.