NEW YORK — President Barack Obama will not be bringing any peace plan or even a “general framework” with him on his trip to Israel later this month, and he did not say he would in a briefing with Jewish leaders at the White House Thursday, according to sources in the administration and several participants in the meeting.
According to one participant, however, the president said: “That doesn’t mean six or nine or 12 months from now we won’t be in the midst of a policy initiative.”
Earlier Thursday, Israel’s Channel 10 reported that Obama planned to present a “general framework” for Israeli-Palestinian peace during his visit, quoting what it said were remarks made by the president in the White House briefing.
While he would not unveil a “comprehensive Middle East peace plan” during the trip, the Israeli TV report said, he told the Jewish leaders they should not rule out him doing so “sometime in the next six, nine or 12 months.”
A US source familiar with the White House’s plans for the trip described the Channel 10 report as “absolutely false.”
A senior administration official told The Times of Israel: “The president did invite leaders from across the American Jewish community to discuss and get input about his upcoming trip to Israel. He did not present a framework for peace talks.”
Added the official, “The president reiterated America’s unshakeable support for Israel and thanked the leaders for role they play in strengthening ties between the two nations. The president noted that the trip is not dedicated to resolving a specific policy issue, but is rather an opportunity to consult with the Israeli government about a broad range of issues – including Iran, Syria, the situation in the region, and the peace process. He also underscored that the trip is an opportunity for him to speak directly to the Israeli people about the history, interests, and values that we share.”
According to Channel 10, Obama told the Jewish leaders he intended to speak to the Israelis about peace with the Palestinians, and would make clear that “wanting peace is not enough.” He would be asking Israel “which tough steps it will be willing to take,” the TV report said.
The report twice repeated that while the president would not be bringing a specific plan, he did intend to present a “general framework.” The president’s remarks to the senior Jewish leaders, the TV report added, were not supposed to have been publicized.
A source familiar with what was said at the briefing told The Times of Israel that “The president started off the meeting by saying he has no intention of delivering a peace plan. That was flatly said.” As for the possibility he will bring a plan down the road, the source said, “There was no discussion about any sort of timeline.”
Another meeting participants said Obama thought prospects for peace were “bleak,” but added: “That doesn’t mean six or nine or 12 months from now we won’t be in the midst of a policy initiative.” He said he would tell the Israelis that “the prospects for peace continue to go through the Palestinians.”
There was no indication that Obama had suggested he would be bringing an initiative on the visit, or afterwards.
The White House briefing was meant to be off the record, but the Times of Israel has counted at least 25 Jewish leaders who attended the meeting, with different versions of what was said being reported in the media.
Besides Obama, White House staff in the meeting included Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett, Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communication Ben Rhodes and interim liaison to the Jewish community Zach Kelly.
Jewish groups represented in the meeting included the Jewish Federations of North America, the National Jewish Democratic Council, AIPAC, the Conference of Presidents, the American Jewish Committee, the Reform, Conservative and Orthodox movements, the Anti-Defamation League, B’nai Brith International, the World Jewish Congress, Jewish Women International, National Council of Jewish Women, J Street, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, Hadassah, Americans for Peace Now and the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
JTA contributed to this report.