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Obama to challenge Israelis on peace efforts during visit

March 07, 2013|By Paul Richter
  • President Obama, on a visit to Israel this month, intends to exhort average Israelis to do more to reach an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal because it is in their own security interests.
President Obama, on a visit to Israel this month, intends to exhort average… (Charles Dharapak / Associated…)

WASHINGTON  -- President Obama, who will make his first visit to Israel as president later this month, will challenge Israelis to make greater personal sacrifices for peace with the Palestinians, the president told leaders of Jewish organizations at the White House on Thursday.

Obama has insisted that he will not try to pressure Israeli leaders during the visit. But he intends to exhort average Israelis to do more to reach an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal because it is in their own security interests, according to several people present.

“What are you willing to do for peace? What hard steps are you willing to take?” Obama said he would ask Israelis during the visit.

The White House has publicly played down any effort to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, saying Obama’s chief goals on the trip are to improve his rapport with the Israeli people and discuss the rising security threats Israel faces from Iran, Syria, Egypt and other parts of the Middle East.

Obama repeated in his hourlong meeting with the diverse group that he would not lay out any kind of U.S. peace plan during the visit.

But his comments suggest Obama is serious about taking another run at the peace process, even though his first attempt collapsed in disarray in 2010.

He told the group there was deep concern in his administration that, without a peacemaking effort, Palestinians would turn to other options that Israel might not like, such as their effort to win greater international diplomatic recognition at the United Nations.

Obama has made little headway on Mideast peace since taking office. But current and former U.S. officials say he is willing to spend personal capital if he and his team can find a way to restart the negotiations.

Secretary of State John F. Kerry has told friends he believes he can achieve a peace deal and is determined to try.

On another subject, Obama pushed back when members of the group urged him to step up U.S. threats against Iran to persuade it to accept limits on its disputed nuclear program. “I’m not going to do extra chest beating just so people think I’m tough,” the president said.

Obama said he was concerned about Iranian perceptions of U.S. intentions and worried that louder threats could backfire by closing off any remaining chance of a diplomatic solution.

Quoting a Chinese proverb, he said it was wise to “build a golden bridge for your enemy to retreat on.”

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