March 7, 2013
Obama meets with Jewish leaders to prepare for Israel trip
In a private White House meeting, President Barack Obama told a diverse group of Jewish leaders that he “was not going to deliver a grand peace plan” during his upcoming two-day trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories.
In what one participant called “an honest and substantive exchange” concerning the President’s upcoming trip, the President told some 20 Jewish leaders at the Thursday morning, March 7 meeting that it would be "premature" to present such a plan. Sources at the meeting asked that their names not be used because participants were told the meeting was to be strictly off-the-record.
“I assume this is not a shy group,” the President reportedly said in opening the discussion in the Roosevelt Room of the White House.
Presidential aides Tony Blanken, Valerie Jaret and Ben Rhodes also attended the meeting.
According to another, the President said he recognized "the region was in turmoil as a whole." Obama said he would take the opportunity of the trip to "connect directly to Israeli people."
The President told the group he plans to visit places of importance to Jewish people. Afterwards, some in the group speculated this could mean a presidential side trip to Masada.
"We assume he didn't mean Hebron," said a source.
The approximately two-hour meeting began at 11 a.m. with the participants sitting around a large, oval table under a portrait of Theodore Roosevelt. The President first spent five minutes giving an “overview of his thinking” about the trip, then primarily listened as the participants offered their suggestions and insights on a wide range of topics.
"People suggested he say certain things," said a source. "One person thought he should toughen his rhetoric and become more clear on Iran. He really pushed back against that. He said he needs to leave room for diplomatic resolution. He said he was not going to do 'extra chest beating' just so people think he's tough."
"He said Iran needs to be able to climb down without humilaiation."
While participants touched briefly on the situation in Syria and Turkey, much of the discussion centered on the Israeli-Palestinian issue.
"He did say that part of Israel's security in the long term was wrapped up in Israeli Palestinian peace," a source said. "He will probably suggest a framework, but not a plan."
The President also reportedly added, "it's not enough to want peace, what are you going to do for peace?"
The trip later this month trip will be the President’s first visit to Israel since taking the office in 2008. The two-day trip will include a two-hour visit to Ramallah, the capital of the PA-controlled West Bank.
"It was a very diverse group of people," another source said. "People from the right, people from Peace Now. Everyone got to say their little piece. There was no unified message at all."
Rob Eshman is Editor-in-Chief of the Jewish Journal. You can follow him on Twitter @foodaism.