Secretary of State John Kerry and an elite US diplomatic team met with a small group of American Jewish leaders at the White House Thursday night to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that resumed last month.
An optimistic-sounding Kerry asked the Jewish leaders for their help in supporting the newly restarted talks, The Times of Israel learned, saying that he feared for Israel’s future if a peace deal is not reached.
Kerry told the fewer than two-dozen representatives of Jewish organizations that he really believes that both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas realize that there is a strategic imperative to act now. He noted that Israel faces the threat of diplomatic isolation and a demographic clock.
A number of the Jewish leaders pressed Kerry on Abbas’s upcoming address to the United Nations General Assembly. They expressed hope that Abbas would change the tone of his rhetoric during his speeches to the world body — a good-faith gesture to demonstrate outward Palestinian willingness to engage in peace talks. One observer noted that Kerry seemed receptive to the idea.
Other Jewish representatives pushed for Kerry to ask Abbas to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
Kerry told the leaders that one of the lynchpins of the current peace process is the separation of Israel’s security assurances from the general negotiations, assurances he said would be guaranteed in a separate agreement with the US.
The security track is being worked out under the auspices of retired Marine Corps general John Allen, who is currently Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s special adviser for the Middle East Peace.
Kerry also emphasized the economic development track being pursued with the Palestinians, particularly the encouragement of private investment in the West Bank. The secretary of state, who announced less than a month ago the resumption of talks, said that this round of negotiations could be separated into five different components: security, economic development, international outreach, public outreach in the form of an open appeal for support, and the diplomatic negotiations themselves. These components, Kerry told the Jewish leaders, were effective when used in concert with the others.
Kerry did most of the talking during the 90-minute meeting, but he was joined by nearly a dozen administration officials including White House Special Envoy for Mideast Peace Martin Indyk, National Security Adviser Susan Rice, senior adviser Frank Lowenstein and deputy national security adviser for strategic communications Ben Rhodes.
Indyk remained silent, and Rice only spoke briefly, focusing on how deeply President Barack Obama was committed to the peace process.
The meeting was not listed on the public calendar for the White House, where it was held, or for the State Department. Unlike at the previous meeting with US Jewish leadership, held in March prior to Obama’s visit to Israel, the president was not present at Thursday’s talk.
The Jewish leadership was a virtual who’s who of the American Jewish community, representing a broad political spectrum, including representatives from the Orthodox Union as well as J Street, and including leaders such as the Anti-Defamation League’s Abe Foxman and the Conference of Presidents’ Malcolm Hoenlein.
This meeting was a soft sell for most attendees, without Kerry pressing them to take the message of support for peace talks home to their respective communities. The hard sell — a more organized push to market the peace talks to centrist US Jews — is anticipated to come later in August, in the run-up to Rosh Hashanah.