Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Obama to U.S. Jewish leaders: Israel must engage in self-reflection

By Barak Ravid

Tags: Barak Obama, Israel News

U.S. President Barack Obama met yesterday for the first time with 15 American Jewish leaders at the White House, for talks aimed at clearing the air following allegations that his administration was taking a tough line with Israel over settlement activity.

At the meeting, Obama told the leaders that he wants to help Israel overcome its demographic problem by reaching an agreement on a two-state solution, but that in order to do so, Israel would need "to engage in serious self-reflection."

On the Iranian nuclear issue, Obama told the leaders that "the door to dialogue is open. If the Iranians do not walk through it, however, we will have to see how we proceed. But it would be a mistake to talk now about what we're going to do and how we're going to do it."

One of the participants at the meeting asked the president to take a lower profile regarding the public differences between his administration and the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the United States' demand that Israel freeze all settlement construction activity in the West Bank. "This situation is not helpful," he told the president, who rejected the request, saying that during the eight years of the Bush administration, such disagreements were never made public but that such an approach was not helpful in advancing the peace process.

Obama added that there is a narrow window of opportunity for advancing the peace process and that he plans to speak openly and honestly with Israel - "a true friend of the U.S." - just as he did with the Arab nations in his speech at Cairo University in June.

Among the groups attending the meeting were the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, Hadassah, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the National Jewish Democratic Council, the Orthodox Union, the United Jewish Communities, the Union for Reform Judaism, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the American Jewish Committee and the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, which is led by long-time Obama acquaintance Alan Solow, who requested the meeting.

Jeremy Ben-Ami, executive director of J Street, who also attended the meeting, said afterwards that he believed that President Obama was asserting positions aimed at achieving two states for two peoples, a stance he claimed is supported by the majority of the Jewish community in the United States that voted for Obama.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu met with the Quartet's Middle East envoy Tony Blair yesterday to discuss ways to improve the Palestinian economy. Netanyahu told Blair that the West Bank's Palestinian residents could achieve more if they were to increase their cooperation with Israel.

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