Published — Saturday 9 March 2013
Last update 9 March 2013 3:53 am
WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama is playing down expectations for a Mideast peace breakthrough during his upcoming trip to Israel, telling American Jewish leaders that he won’t be carrying a “grand peace plan” when he arrives in the region later this month.
Obama, in an hourlong private meeting at the White House on Thursday, acknowledged that near-term prospects for peace are bleak, according to a person who attended the discussion. But the president 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 Netanyahu, Obama will hold talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. He told the Jewish leaders that he would emphasize 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 authorized to discuss the gathering publicly and requested anonymity.
Palestinians refuse to resume negotiations unless Israel stops building settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
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.