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!
  • “I don’t want to say, ‘Oh oh, I’m not Jewish,’ because when you say that, you sound like someone trying to get into a 1950s country club, “and I love the idea of being Jewish." Are you a fan of Seth Meyers?
  • "If you want my advice: more Palestinians, more checkpoints, just more reality." What do you think?
  • Happy birthday Barbra Streisand! Our favorite Funny Girl turns 72 today.
  • Clueless parenting advice from the star of "Clueless."
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • 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.