Kerry briefs Jewish leaders on peace talks


National Security Adviser Susan Rice /U.S. State DepartmentWASHINGTON (JTA) – Secretary of State John Kerry and National Security Adviser Susan Rice briefed Jewish leaders on Palestinian-Israeli peace talks.

The meeting at the White House lasted 90 minutes, participants said, and was characterized mostly by Kerry’s enthusiasm for the resumed talks and the serious commitment he said he saw from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Kerry appeared bullish about talks he has worked assiduously to revive since becoming secretary of state in February, but also nervous about the potential for failure, warning of circumstances – for instance, pressures on Netanyahu – that could undermine them.

He repeated his appeal to American Jews to endorse and support the peace process, first made in early June when he addressed the American Jewish Committee.

Kerry said there was a “strategic imperative” to arrive at a deal soon, and said he understood the difficulties faced by Netanyahu in dealing with a coalition that included right-wing parties.

Kerry expressed frustration with the European Union’s new policy of not giving grants and prizes to Israeli enterprises in occupied areas, saying it was the sort of move that could nudge away Netanyahu.

Present at the off-the-record Aug. 8 evening meeting were leaders from the Conservative movement, the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, J Street, the Israel Policy Forum, the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, the Conservative movement, the Orthodox Union, American Friends of Lubavitch, B’nai B’rith International, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the Jewish Federations of North America, Hadassah, the National Jewish Democratic Council, the National Council of Jewish Women and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

“The community expressed our concern at a time of transition, the Arab Spring, how we can work in the way we all want to do, for a two-state solution and for Israel’s security,” said Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, the executive vice president of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly.

Nathan Diament, director of the Orthodox Union’s Washington office, said the exchanges were “conversational.”

“I would characterize it in general as an important – not the first, not the last – step in a conversation Kerry wants to conduct with the American Jewish community,” he said.

Diament and Schonfeld spoke under conditions that allowed them to generally describe the meeting, without directly quoting Kerry and others.

Kerry and Rice had top aides at their side, including Martin Indyk, recently named the top Middle East peace negotiator. Kerry was planning on holding a similar meeting with representatives of Arab-American groups.