Olmert addresses concerns of US Jewish leaders

Olmert has been criticized in some quarters of the Jewish community for his position on Jerusalem.

olmert, reclining 224 88 (photo credit: AP)
olmert, reclining 224 88
(photo credit: AP)
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met with a group of US Jewish leaders Tuesday in a bid to inform and reassure them about the Annapolis process, according to several participants. Many of those in attendance described the 80-minute session as "positive" and noted that there was broad support for the peace initiative, but several noted the conversation did not sit easily with everyone. Olmert has been criticized in some quarters of the Jewish community for his position on Jerusalem, whose status and contours are expected to be resolved as part of negotiations formally launched Wednesday. Some groups on the Right are worried Jerusalem will be divided and are concerned for the fate of its Jewish holy sites. Olmert was quoted as telling Israeli journalists Monday: "Does any Jewish organization have a right to confer upon Israel what it negotiates or not? This question was decided a long time ago. The government of Israel has a sovereign right to negotiate anything on behalf of Israel." The statements raised some consternation in the American Jewish community, including at the Orthodox Union (OU), which has played a leading role in a campaign to make sure Jerusalem stays united. In response to Olmert's comments, the group issued a statement saying that it was seeking to express its views rather than dictate Israeli policy. It added that, "To cede portions of the city which has been the spiritual and political capital of the Jewish people for millennia is a step the government of Israel ought not take." Olmert, however, told those at Tuesday's meeting that his remarks had been misunderstood. He said that while American Jews could not be allowed to dictate Israel's policy decisions, they were encouraged to offer their opinions and input. Participants described the prime minister as "confident" and "relaxed" at the gathering, which followed the speeches at Annapolis pledging allegiance to the peace process pushed by the Bush administration. The administration has also been meeting with Jewish groups to elicit further support and clarify its positions. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is set to speak with Jewish leaders Thursday afternoon, and National Security Advisor Steve Hadley met with the OU and evangelical groups Monday night. The latter meeting was also described as an attempt to reassure participants that Israel would not be pressured, though some still came away with concerns. However, the OU, for one, noted its appreciation for the time and outreach efforts of the administration. Olmert also met separately with Rabbi Marc Schneier, the head of the World Jewish Congress's American section, on Tuesday. Schneier impressed on him the importance of involving Jewish and Muslim religious leaders in reconciliation efforts, an idea to which he said Olmert was receptive. Schneier later said that he felt some American Jewish groups had gone too far in pushing their agenda on Jerusalem, calling the American Jewish community the "limited partner" while Israel was the "general partner" in the relationship. "As limited partners, we have overstepped our bounds on Jerusalem and on other issues," he said. "American Jewish organizations have a right to express their views, but not to impose their views and not to dictate policy."