Obama meets the Jews: interpretation is everything
03/02/2011 - 13:40
James Besser

JTA is reporting that a delegation of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations met with President Obama on Tuesday and that the meeting went well, with Mr. Obama expressing his undying commitment to Israel's security and the assorted Jewish leaders proclaiming themselves satisfied – at least on the record.

Off the record, I had calls from activists on both sides of a deeply divided pro-Israel community, with some on the right saying the president was aggressive on the issue of settlements and that he seemed to put much more of the onus for the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian stalemate on a “stronger” Israel, other participants saying that they saw little new at the meeting, and certainly no signs of hostility to Israel.

Pardon me if I don't shout “Stop the presses” like a chain-smoking editor in Citizen Kane. We've heard this enough times before to know the routine: the Presidents Conference includes a pretty wide range of Jewish groups, and at every one of these sessions presidential statements are filtered through individual ideologies and expectations in ways that make accurate reporting of what happened extraordinarily difficult.

After several conversations about the meeting, a couple of things seem safe to say:

- The President is frustrated

- The President is hoping Jewish leaders here can play a role in convincing the Netanyahu government that settlements really ARE a problem.

- The President is aware of concerns about Israel's growing isolation, and believes the remedy is to find some way forward in the peace process

- The President has no new schemes up his sleeve for getting past the current Israeli-Palestinian impasse.

That last point was evident as well in senior adviser Dennis Ross's speech to J Street on Monday. While saying “Our efforts to promote Israeli-Palestinian peace are ongoing, even when they are less visible” and talking about “ticking clocks,” I'm increasingly convinced Ross's real message to the pro-peace process group was this: don't get your hopes up about any dramatic new U.S. initiatives. With the Middle East in a state of unprecedented ferment and with little indication either Netanyahu or Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas is ready for bold steps, the White House is in wait and see mode when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Which gets me back to yesterday's White House meeting. I wasn't there, and I've done enough of these stories to know that when they touch on the volcanic Middle East, interpretation is everything.

Over at Politico, Ben Smith quoted a participant saying “Those who have concerns about the President and his policies were not converted and those who don’t have problems were not given cause for concern.” That seems about as good a description as I've heard.

What I wonder: do these meetings actually help administrations – especially since in every single case, participants come out with such widely different interpretations of what happened? Or is this just about checking the Jewish box, and making sure pictures of a bunch of leaders in kippot sitting around the table with the president appear in Jewish newspapers?

Don't blame Obama; this has happened with every recent president, Democratic and Republican.

Comments

The author makes many good points, but ends up revealing the impoverishment of knowledge, ideas, historical facts, and creativity of Obama when it comes to Israel. After all his meetings with Jews and Israelis, he still feels the settlements ARE the problem?

There would be no such person as a Palestinian were it not for the Arab war to destroy Israel in 1948, which created refugees (both Jews and Arabs). The Jews were accepted as Israeli citizens and the Arabs were refused citizenship in the Arab countries in order to use their refugee status to claim the State of Israel for them. This they have done and likely will continue to do.

There is nothing that Israel can do to meet the needs of people who want all of Israel as their state, despite the rhetoric for American consumption that all they want lies outside of 1967 armistice lines. They know those are indefensible borders for Israel, so were Israel to accept their demands, and dismantle the settlements, it would be suicide for Israel.

Until Palestinian Arabs become willing to live in some part of the land they want, not all of Israel, and accept living side by side with a Jewish State, there will be no prospects for peace. When the Palestinian people decide some land is better than no land and they give up their determination to have all of Israel, the settlement problem won't be a problem. Land transfers can take place and borders can be settled.

"Peace talks" under the current circumstances accomplish nothing. Obama's idea that it is Netanyahu who needs to make the offer to dismantle all settlements is the same as saying, "Israel can have peace after she puts a gun to her head."

It is sad to have a president who announces he's holding Middle East peace talks and doesn't understand (or doesn't care about) something as basic as Israel's security needs.

The build-up areas of all settlements are less than 3% of the territory of the West Bank, but Obama had bought the Palestinian lie about their overall importance. After giving the green light to the Leftist global campaign of vilification of Israel by acting like the elected Israeli leader is some kind of a leper (compare and contrast with Obama's genuflection to any greasy potentate from the Third World), Obama now claims that Israel can "reclaim its legitimacy" (WHAT???) only by caving in to Palestinian demands. Hard as it might be to realize, in 2008 Americans had put an ideological enemy of the Jewish state into the White House. Thanks God that mistake was partially rectified in 2010, and with blessing it will be over come 2012.

You are missing the point. The problem is not that Israelis do not think that the 'occupied territories' is a problem, they do not think it's THE problem. It's very simple. The conflict is over a hundred years old, while the 'occupation' is only 40 something. Terror attacks against Jews did not start in 1967, but as early as the 1920s. So yes, it is A problem, not THE problem. This is a crucial point, as some Israelis and many American Jews think the conflict is about some real estate. I personally don't think so. I support the territories-for-peace ideal, but doubt if I interpret 'peace' similarly to how the Arabs do.
The bottom line is this: are the Palestinians in a position where they can accept the existence of the Jewish state. I think they aren't.

I would not take what Obama says very seriously he has proven to be an enemy of Israel. He is only interested in donations for his campaign.

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