Netanyahu calls on Obama not to back any new peace moves as term ends
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Netanyahu calls on Obama not to back any new peace moves as term ends

In video address to Jewish leaders, PM also calls to end public pressure on him by American Jews to fully implement deal on egalitarian prayer at Western Wall

WASHINGTON — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he hoped President Barack Obama would not back any new UN initiatives on Palestinian-Israeli peace in the final weeks of his term.

“I very much hope President Obama will continue the policy he enunciated,” Netanyahu said Tuesday in a video address ending the annual Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly, which was held in Washington, D.C this year. The Israeli prime minister was refering to a 2011 statement by Obama in which the president said that a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was best left to the parties and not to outside actors.

In Israel and among some pro-Israel groups, there is concern that Obama in his final weeks will back a UN push to recognize Palestinian statehood or lay down the parameters of a final-status agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians. Obama has not indicated plans to do any such thing.

Netanyahu said the setting of parameters “will harden the Palestinian positions, it will push peace back, push peace back decades.”

In the video address, the prime minister expressed his belief that world nations were warming to Israel and that the United Nations might become a friendlier place for the Jewish state in the near future.

Netanyahu pointed to a string of recent diplomatic advances including a meeting with a government minister from Vietnam, planned visits in the coming weeks to Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan — both Muslim countries — as well as Singapore, and his plans to visit Australia and then Fiji. They were, he said, indications of changes for the better in the international arena.

“I’m telling you that it will be no more than a decade and possibly a lot sooner that the automatic majorities against Israel in the UN will collapse, and Israel may actually find a fair hearing there,” he said. “Now, it’s not going to happen tomorrow but it’ll happen, and sooner rather than later.”

Richard Sandler, the chairman of the JFNA’s board of trustees, asked Netanyahu about the status of an agreement in Israel to allow fuller access for egalitarian services, where men and women pray together, at the Western Wall. The question – and Sandler’s praise of Netanyahu for his attempts to advance egalitarian prayer – earned applause from the 3,000 or so Jewish communal professionals and lay leaders in attendance.

Liberal Jewish activists enter the Western Wall carrying Torah scrolls on Wednesday, November 2, 2016 (courtesy)
Liberal Jewish activists enter the Western Wall carrying Torah scrolls on Wednesday, November 2, 2016 (courtesy)

The JFNA board sent Netanyahu a letter this week expressing a “growing sense of urgency” among American Jews as a tentative solution is being blocked in the courts by Orthodox interests in Israel.

Under the agreement announced in January and approved by the Cabinet in a 15-5 vote, the egalitarian section of the wall near Robinson’s Arch would be expanded and placed under the authority of a pluralist committee. The plan called for solidifying ultra-Orthodox control over the site’s traditional Orthodox section.

But the religious partners in the agreement backed away from the deal and in June, a group of Orthodox Jewish organizations filed a petition with Israel’s Supreme Court to prevent the establishment of the egalitarian section.

Netanyahu said the situation was “complicated” and appealed for an end to public pressure on him from American Jews.

“Sometimes you need quiet diplomacy between Jews and Arabs,” he said. “This is one instance where we need quiet diplomacy between Jews and Jews. That’s a lot more likely to get the unity we seek.”

Chemi Peres, a son of former Israeli president Shimon Peres, speaking at the annual General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America, November 15, 2016. (Ron Sachs)
Chemi Peres, a son of former Israeli president Shimon Peres, speaking at the annual General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America, November 15, 2016. (Ron Sachs)

Speaking before Netanyahu, and appearing in person, was Chemi Peres, a son of Shimon Peres, a founder of Israel and longtime leader who died in September.

Peres earned cheers from the crowd when he praised Obama and Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee who lost last week’s presidential election to Trump, but there was a wave of laughter when he wished Trump good luck as president.

Peres, in wishing the best to Trump, hinted at concerns his father had expressed before he died that Trump’s insularity – his calls during the campaign for a rollback of American influence – would be bad for the world and for Israel.

“This partnership between us – between Israel and the United States – was always of the highest importance to my father,” he said. “He, who worked with 11 presidents, saw America as a nation who rose to greatness by giving and not by taking, and whose support of Israel is unparalleled.”

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