WASHINGTON: US President Barack Obama says he intended to challenge Israelis during his upcoming visit to make greater personal sacrifices for peace with Palestinians.
“What are you willing to do for peace? What hard steps are you willing to take?” Obama said he planned to ask Israelis.
He was speaking to about 25 US Jewish leaders at the White House for an hour on Thursday in a meeting that was not on his public schedule.
Several participants spoke with a few news organisations afterwards, largely keeping their comments general, as the White House requested.
Obama played down expectations for a Mideast peace breakthrough during his upcoming trip, saying he won’t be carrying a “grand peace plan.” The president acknowledged that near-term prospects for peace are bleak, according to a person who attended the discussion. But he said a deal with the Palestinians remains the only way for Israel to achieve long-term security.
The White House has not announced the dates for the president’s trip, although Israeli news media have reported he will arrive on March 20. Obama will also make stops in the West Bank town of Ramallah, and Jordan.
In addition to his meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Obama will hold talks with Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
He told the Jewish leaders that he would emphasise to Abbas that peace remains possible, though very difficult given the current climate in the region.
In his meeting, Obama said pursuing sweeping peace talks now would be premature, given that Israel is still working to form a new government. But he added that doesn’t preclude him from launching a peace effort in six months or a year, according to the person in attendance, who was not authorised to discuss the gathering publicly and requested anonymity.
The White House did not put the meeting with Jewish leaders on the president’s public schedule.
A White House official later said Obama sought input from the leaders on his trip and underscored that it would be an opportunity for him to speak directly to the Israeli people.
Marc Stanley, chairman of the National Jewish Democratic Council, was among those who attended the meeting, said Obama reiterated his “unshakeable support for Israel and explained that his upcoming trip will be focused on discussing with his Israeli counterparts the critical issues facing the Jewish state, including Iran, the peace process and Syria.”