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PAGE 2A By Eric Fingerhut HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JULY 31, 2009 Jewish groups vie to land Obama as speaker WASHINGTON (JTA)-- Now that President Barack Obama has held his first meeting with Jewish leaders, the speculation can begin: Which Jewish organization will be the first to land the president as a speaker? Obama has several options if he wants to speak to a Jewish audience this fall. Already he has received invitations from a partisan organization (the National Jewish Democratic Council); a highly support- ive, controversial new dovish group (J Street) and an apoliti- cal broad-based organization (United Jewish Communities). In reality, according to several people who served as Jewish liaisons in previous administrations, such a deci- sion is often dictated as much by scheduling issues and the president's message at the time as by the specific char- acter of the groups clamoring for a presidentialappearance. "You want to see what's on the president's agenda, what's driving the message at the White House, andwhich orga- nization might be a receptive, appropriate audience to carry that message," said Jay Footlik, the Jewish liaison for President Clinton from 1995 to 1997. "You want to say yes to everybody, but you can't," said Noam Neusner, the Jewish liaison in the George W. Bush administration in 2004-05. So "a lot of it is based on timing and audience value." Neusner noted that a third to a half of speaking requests are ruled out because of conflicts with the president's travel schedule or other com- mitments. The issues with which a particular organization is associated also factor into the decision, he said. If the president wants to speak about church-state is- sues, for example, he might go to the Anti-Defamation League. The American Jew- ish Committee could provide the venue for a broad foreign policy address. And if the president wants to talk about the Holocaust, the U.S. Holo- caust Memorial Museum or the Simon Wiesenthal Center might serve as good spots. Of course, personal rela- tionships are always a factor. The fact that its president at the time, Bruce Ramer, was a friend and supporter of George W. Bush helped make the AJC the venue in 2001 for Bush's first appearance as president at a large Jewish gathering. World events can some- times intervene to necessitate a presidential address to a Jewish audience. Footlik recalled that during a spate of suicide bombings in Israel in 1996, Clinton trav- eled to the Jewish state and decided as Air Force One was taking off to address the UJC Young Leadership conference, which was meeting that week in Israel. So, with input from past White House staffers and several more knowledgeable Jewish Washington insiders, here's a quick guide to handi- capping some of the possibili- ties for Obama's Jewish debut: The National Jewish Dem- ocratic Council, aWashington- based organization that helped deliver Obama's message to the Jewish community during the presidential campaign, has its conference Oct. 20-21. Some observers have speculated that apartisan event, especially one that is likely to be outdrawn by other Jewish organizational gatherings in the coming months, would be an unlikely place for Obama's Jewish con- ference debut. A week after the NJDC parley, J Street makes its de- but on the Jewish conference scene with a Washington event thatwill bring together 11 other left-wing pro-Israel groups. J Street repeatedly has praised and defended the Obama administration's Middle East moves, most notably its calls for a settle- ment freeze. But speaking at J Street would likely generate controversy, since the group has been critical of other Jewish organizations and itself has faced criticism for slamming Israel's launching of the Gaza invasion. In addition, one insider noted, the fact that this will be J Street's first-ever con- ference means there would be uncertainty on several fronts, including the size of the crowd. Another observer also doubted that the presi- dent would attend the J Street parley, and suggested that the better question would be whether the administration would send a high-ranking of- ficial in his stead perhaps a close adviser like White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, who is Jewish, or Secretary of State HiUary Rodham Clinton. Attending the Union for Reform Judaism biennial convention, which will be held Nov. 4-8, would provide a less controversial option for hooking up with a liberal outfit that supports his vi- sion of a two-state solution and shares his criticism of settlement expansion. In addition, the URJ espouses liberal views on many key domestic issues. And, judg- ing from recent biennials, the crowd will likely top 5,000. The Obama team has tapped the director of the Reform movement's Wash- ington office several times, including once for a promi- By Leslie Susser JERUSALEM (JTA)--De- spite the latest clash between Is- rael and the Obama administra- tion over building--this time in eastern Jerusalem--the United States is pressing ahead with plans to reopen negotiations on boththe Israeli-Palestinianand Israeli-Syrian tracks. In the July 19 Cabinet ses- sion, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu strongly rejected American criticism of plans by right-wing Jews to build approximately 20 units on the site of the Shepherd Hotel, once home to the Palestinian grand mufti in the mainly Arab neighborhood of Sheik Jarrah. Netanyahu argued that united Jerusalem--east and west--was Israel's capital, and Jewish building there was not subject to negotiation. White House Some of the Jewish leaders present at the White House meeting with President Barack Obama on July 13 are hoping he picks their organization as the venue for his first mojor address to the Jewish community as president. together thousands from all along the political spectrum. Another Jewish politico said that given the federation system's focus on fund rais- ing for Israeli and domestic humanitarian causes, the GA is the sort of venue where the president could get by with generic pro-Israel remarks (i.e. no controversy) and score major points by highlighting various domestic policies. "He could speak about any subject on the White House agenda'--from health care to volunteerism to caring for the elderly to the economy, the second observer said. For those looking to make bets, it also doesn't hurt that GA co-chair Kenneth Fein- berg was recently named the Treasury Department "pay czar" deciding compensa- nent clergy appearance at the Democratic convention. So this would seem to be a good match. One noteworthy problem that would seem to rule out an Obama appearance--the 2009 biennial is being held in Toronto. Perhaps the politically safest option would be the United Jewish Communities General Assembly, the an- nual gathering of leaders of the North American Jewish federation system, which this year happens to be taking place in the nation's capital Nov. 8-11. "It makes perfect sense," said one knowledgeable observer of the community. "It's really the biggest Jewish gathering, it's mainstream, it's nationwide" and brings U.S. eyes Syrian, Palestinian tracks Kobi Gideon/Flash 90/JTA Some say Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, shown arriving for the Likud Party meeting on July 20 at the Knesset, was eyeing future U.S. concessions when he defied an Obama administra- tion demand to halt a building project in eastern Jerusalem. The land in question was bought in 1985 by American billionaire Irving Moskowitz, who received a building per- mit through regular channels after a wait of more than a decade. Netanyahu insisted that the government had done nothing to hurry things, and had no role in approving the project. Nevertheless, the prime minister's critics say the tim- ing could not have been worse and accused the government of trying to derail attempts to get peace talks going. Some analysts believe Ne- tanyahu deliberately height- ened the quarrel over Sheik Jarrah to shift the building controversy focus from the West Bank settlements to Jerusalem, where he has a better case and wide domestic support. They say he may also States will be able to take the lead in promoting Middle East peace. On the Palestinian track, the Americans have been hearing very different things from the two parties. Where the Palestinians want to cut straight to a final peace deal, the Israelis suggest a more measured approach. According to the Palestinian al-Quds newspaper, theAmeri- cans favor the final-status approach and are working on a plan whereby they would allow Israel to build hundreds of units in the West Bank, if it allows a final border to be drawn between Israel and a future Palestinian state. A1-Qudsalso says theAmeri- cans are proposing settling 300,000 Palestinian refugees on land Israel hands over to the Palestinian state in a future land swap. That would enable Palestinians to say they had exercised their "right of return" while also allowing the Israeli government to stop refugees from being settled in Israel proper. The Netanyahu govern- ment, however, does not believe a final peace deal with the Palestinians is possible as long as Hamas controls Gaza. Some on the right suggest returning to the 2003 peace "road map" and starting from square one. Others on the left, like President Shimon Peres and Labor Party leader and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, suggest circumventing Hamas by going for an interim Pales- tinian state in most of the West Bankwith temporary borders. This, they argue, would create a dynamic toward full Palestin- ian statehood and, at the same time, allow Israel to keep all the large settlementblocs--at least until final borders are established down the road. PalestinianAuthority Presi- dent Mahmoud Abbas, how- ever, is strongly opposed to any temporary borders because he believes they will end up being final. Peres suggests thatIsrael and the United States negoti- ate with the Arab world in an effort to have the moderates convince the Palestinians to go along. The equation would change ifAbbas' Fatah movement and Hamas can agree on a national unity government, thus paving the way for talks on a final peace with the Palestinian people as a whole. it is a scenario not beyond the bounds of possibility. Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin maintains that Hamas is con- sidering an added emphasis on diplomacy and pushing for a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders in return for a long-term cease-fire, or "hudna." On the Syrian track, the Americans already have put a tentative peace blueprint on the table. be hoping to gain American concessions on Jerusalem in return for an Israeli freeze on building in the settlements. The thinking is that this would be seen by the Israeli public as a deal with Obama rather than simply caving in to American pressure on the settlements. For the Americans, U.S. pressure on Israel over the settlements is not an end in itself but rather a means to regain Palestinian and Arab confidence, so that the United HANDYMAN SERVICE Handy man and General Maintenance Air Conditioning Electrical Plumbing Carpentry Formerly handled maintenance at JCC References available STEVE'S SERVICES Call Steve Doyle at (386) 668-8960 tion for toP executives of companies receiving govern- ment assistance. A couple of insiders said the president could create his own event to talk to American Jews, scheduling a speech at a synagogue or other Jewish venue. That would allow the White House to have more control over who makes up the audience. And there's a final option, which would surprise no one who was interviewed for this story: Obama could skip all the Jewish events this fall and wait" until the spring, when he would have AIPAC, the American Jewish Com- mittee, the Anti-Defamation League and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, among others, from which to choose. Drawn up by Frederick Hoff, the U.S. official respon- sible for theIsrael-Syria file, the plan reportedly envis- ages peace in interlocking stages: First, the Israeli army withdraws from. part of the Golan Heights and an international force takes over the evacuated areas, part of which becomes a peace park that both Israelis and Syrians can visit during the day. After a long period of building trust in this way, and gradually normalizing relations, Israeli settlements on the Golan would be dis- mantled and Israeli forces would withdraw to the final border based on the June 4, 1967 lines, with some amendments made by Hoff. But it won't be so easy. Netanyahu is not ready to commit to full withdrawal from the Golan as a precon- dition for talks, and without such a commitment Syria's president, Bashar Asad, is un- likely to engage. Also, Assad may be reluctant to sever his ties with Iran, making peace with him and the heavy price it would entail less appealing. As on the Palestinian track, much will depend on President Obama. After all the hard work in setting up peacemaking on both tracks, will the American president have the political will to fol- low through and lean on all parties to go the extra mile?