President Obama Addresses Jewish Concerns

July 14, 2009

Author: Peter Wallsten

Source: The Los Angeles Times,0,1886892.story

A private meeting Monday held to ease tensions between the White House and American Jewish leaders included a pointed exchange as President Obama said public disagreements between the U.S. government and Israel are useful in the pursuit of Middle East peace, several participants said.

The president's remarks, surprising to some in the room, came as he was questioned about a perceived distance between his administration and Israel -- specifically in his insistence that Israel halt all settlement construction in the West Bank.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has refused to rule out building new homes in existing settlements, a policy that Palestinian leaders say would preclude their sitting down for peace talks.

Obama, according to participants, said his approach would build more credibility with Arabs, and he criticized the Bush administration policy of unwavering agreement with Israel as ineffective.

"He said, 'The United States and Israel were very, very close for eight years, and it produced very little,' " said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, described as one of the more aggressive questioners during the 45-minute session.

The White House did not release a transcript of the meeting, and participants were forbidden to share direct quotes from the president. But at least four participants confirmed Obama's comments, as did a White House official present at the meeting.