WASHINGTON (JTA) – U.S. President Barack Obama told rabbis in a pre-Rosh Hashanah phone call that security talks with Israel had resumed and he hoped to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by early next month.
On Thursday, in his annual pre-High Holidays call to the rabbis, Obama said that he was ready to meet with Netanyahu during the United Nations’ General Assembly opening session, which starts next week and runs through Oct. 6. Netanyahu until now has rebuffed such overtures because of his disagreement with the U.S. leader over the Iran nuclear deal.
“Our consultations have already begun with Israeli military and intelligence officials,” Obama said.
“My hope is to have a long discussion with Mr. Netanyahu about these issues when he comes to the United Nations during the General Assembly of the United Nations, or immediately after that,” he said.
Netanyahu, who adamantly opposes the sanctions relief for nuclear restrictions deal reached in July between Iran and six major powers, has suspended U.S.-Israel discussions on security cooperation until he was certain that opponents of the deal in the U.S. Congress could not defeat it.
Congress has yet to vote on the deal, but it became clear late last week that Obama had garnered enough voters to head off any bid to kill the deal, and on Thursday, Senate Democrats successfully killed the legislation that would have rejected the agreement.
The Iran deal was the main focus of the call, which rabbis use to help plan their High Holidays sermons.
“Acknowledging the vigorous debate that has occurred within the American Jewish community and in Israel, the president explained that the deal is consistent with his unwavering commitment to Israel’s security, and he expressed his willingness to discuss additional ways to enhance Israel’s security and further strengthen the U.S.-Israel relationship as the deal is implemented,” the White House said in its readout of the phone call, which drew 500 rabbis from across the denominational spectrum.
Obama fielded questions after his opening statement and addressed issues including the Voting Rights Act, combating anti-Semitism worldwide, climate change and Israeli-Palestinian peace. He praised the Jewish community for its work in advancing civil rights.
“There’s a long recognition based on religious traditions and the memory of what it’s like to be a stranger,” he said.
The president also said that he was still dedicated to advancing Israeli-Palestinian peace despite the collapse last year of U.S.-brokered talks.
“Israel’s long-term security does depend on somehow resolving the Palestinian issue,” Obama said. “We’re going to have to work on these issues, and they’re going to be messy and challenging in the years to come.”
Obama said he would stand by Israel on matters of security, but called on U.S. Jews as well as Israel to closely consider the Palestinian question.
“There’s going to have to be some soul searching in Israel and the American Jewish community because they’re tough questions,” he said.