Netanyahu asks Obama not to make any Israeli-Palestinian moves in final weeks of term


WASHINGTON (JTA) — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said he hoped President Barack Obama would not back any new U.N. 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 this year was held in Washington, D.C.

Richard Sandler, the chairman of the JFNA’s board of trustees, had asked Netanyahu to comment on the prospects of Israeli-Palestinian peace. The Israeli leader had read to Sandler a 2011 statement by Obama saying the resolution of the 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 U.N. 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.”

Sandler’s first question was 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.

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.

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.”

Netanyahu also said he looked forward to working with President-elect Donald Trump.

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.

Chemi Peres

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

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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