Obama: Israelis Should Soul-Search About Making Peace

By Ben Harris (JTA)

Published March 02, 2011.
  • Print
  • Share Share

President Obama reportedly urged Jewish communal leaders to speak to their friends and colleagues in Israel and to “search your souls” over Israel’s seriousness about making peace.

In an hourlong meeting Tuesday with about 50 representatives from the Jewish community’s chief foreign policy umbrella group, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Obama reiterated the U.S. commitment to Israel, according to statements from both the White House and Conference of Presidents.

Top leaders of the conference welcomed the meeting and noted the president’s affirmation of his “deep commitment to Israel’s security.” Other participants echoed the upbeat line, telling JTA the meeting was positive.

But several participants at the meeting told JTA that the president also implied that Israel bears primary responsibility for moving the peace process ahead. They interpreted the president’s comments either as hostile, naïve or unsurprising.

Obama said Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is eager to secure his legacy by establishing a Palestinian state and would accept a decent offer if it was on the table, according to participants.

“The Palestinians don’t feel confident that the Netanyahu government is serious about territorial concessions,” the president reportedly said.

Obama reportedly said that the Jewish sections of Jerusalem would remain in Israeli hands as part of any peace deal, but that the Arab sections would not.

Participants uniformly declined to speak on the record about the meeting, in keeping with admonitions from Conference of Presidents leaders that specifics should not be discussed publicly. While there was general consistency in the reports about Obama’s comments, interpretation of them varied widely.

“Many people felt that their worst fears about Obama were confirmed with respect to Israel,” one participant said. “They felt an enormous hostility towards Israel.”

Other participants disagreed, calling such views ridiculous. They said the meeting was a positive one, described the president as “thoughtful” and “forthcoming” in his remarks, and said no new ground was broken.

“The people who loved Obama probably still love him, the people who had big reservations about Obama probably have more reservations than they had before,” one longtime Jewish organizational official told JTA.

The atmosphere, most agreed, was cordial and gracious.

“I thought he reaffirmed his support of Israel, and I thought he did it quite well,” said one participant. “Nothing that he said would I interpret in any way as being anti Israel or opposed to Israel.”

Others suggested that the president wasn’t hostile so much as naïve about Palestinian intentions and his belief about Israel’s supposed lack of commitment to peacemaking. Still others suggested both interpretations were flawed.

“I think the president showed a deep understanding, in great depth, of the issues that have arisen in the Middle East, including the Palestinian-Israeli peace process as well as the broader regional issues,” a participant told JTA. “I would be very surprised for anybody in the room who listened to the detailed and thoughtful way in which he responded to questions to characterize them as naïve or unknowledgeable.”






Find us on Facebook!
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.