In a meeting with a group of Arab Americans this week, U.S. President Barack Obama revealed that he will not push the Israelis and Palestinians toward restarting negotiations or outline a new peace initiative during his upcoming visit to the region, but he will take with him a cash infusion of $500 million – which Congress will soon release – of much needed financial aid to the Palestinian Authority.
Obama met at the White House with members from the Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee, the Arab American Institute, the Arab Federation of Ramallah, the American Task Force for Palestine and other individuals and groups.
“Obama said that since the Israeli government has not been willing to make concessions, there is no point in pushing [for negotiations] right now,” one participant at the meeting with Obama said on condition of anonymity.
“He said the goal of his trip was to speak to the Israeli people directly,” said another participant. “He thinks it was a mistake that he didn’t address the Israeli public in his first term.”
Obama’s planned speech to the Israeli public, which has yet to announced, will be complementary of Jewish and Israeli history and accomplishments and Israelis’ hopes of maintaining a democratic Jewish state, said three participants who were at the meeting.
“He said he wanted to see what kind of concessions the Israelis are willing to make and push them in that direction, that’s why he wants to give the speech to the Israeli people,” said one source.
But Obama warned that the speech to the Israeli public might not have what the Arab participants in the meeting were looking for. “But he implored us to give them a pass on this one,” the source said.
Obama told the group he will speak to Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas separately during his planned visit to Ramallah.
Obama wants his plans to include another West Bank stop, though what he will do is still unclear. “He said ‘I don’t want the trip to be a drive by,’” according to a participant “but they haven’t figured out how to do it yet.”
Obama will also tell the Palestinians that “going the way of the United Nations is not the right way. The right way is negotiations,” according to a source.
Obama also expressed his frustrations with the lack of progress on the negotiations. “He was highly engaged but realistic. He understands the community was frustrated; he said he was very frustrated. ‘The only people more frustrated than me,’ Obama said, were the ‘Palestinians living in West Bank and Gaza – it’s a legitimate frustration,’” the source quoted Obama as saying.
One of the participants also said that Obama expressed his frustration with Congress. “Every time the pressure gets to the Israelis they go to Congress,” said the source. “He wants to find a way around that, that’s why he wants to talk to the Israeli public directly.”
Neither the Iranian nuclear issue nor the settlements came up in the meeting, according to the sources who attended. The nuclear issue, however, did come up in Obama’s meetings with Jewish leaders, with whom he met the previous week.
On Jordan, Obama told the participants he will urge the government to continue the democratizations process. “He said Jordan was an example of a monarchy trying to find a way to open up without chaos and that’s something they want to support,” a person who took part in the meeting said. “The president also said if Syrian President Basher al-Assad is willing to negotiate they should, but it doesn’t seem like he’s willing to and the window is closing.”
Obama had a last message to the participants. “He said ‘this trip is not going to give you everything you want’,” a source said.