In ‘candid’ talk with PM, Reform leaders highlight growing US partisan divide on Israel

American Jewish Reform leaders held a “candid” meeting in Jerusalem on Sunday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. They shared their concerns over a wide range of issues, including maintaining US bipartisan backing for Israel amid a what a recent poll showed is a growing divide in support between Republicans and Democrats.

The delegation, led by the group’s president Rabbi Rick Jacobs, met with Netanyahu and his staff for nearly an hour, according to a statement by the Union for Reform Judaism, discussing a number of subjects including US-Israel ties, religious pluralism in Israel, threats against Israeli Reform leaders, the Iranian nuclear threat and Israeli settlement activity.

The Reform leaders said they expressed concern to the Israeli leader over “maintaining a bipartisan American consensus in support of a strong US-Israel relationship,” Israeli “expansion of settlements” in the West Bank, and “the status of the governmental agreement concerning the Kotel,” or Western Wall.

Israeli government ministers in January 2016 approved a plan to establish an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall, but progress has yet to be made.

The Reform leaders said they were “pleased” with the appointment of Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi (Likud), who attended the meeting, to help move the plan forward.

The representatives also told Netanyahu that they remain firmly committed to a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians, while also expressing their concern regarding settlement expansion in the West Bank.

In turn, Netanyahu and his staff, according to the statement, briefed the leaders on current threats to Israel’s security, and emphasized that “the Iranian nuclear threat remains by far the most significant danger.”

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, left, meeting with Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on March 9, 2017. (WAFA)

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, left, meeting with Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on March 9, 2017. (WAFA)

On Thursday, the delegation met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, to discuss the two-state solution, settlements and the Trump administration.

Following the meeting, Jacobs said in a statement that he was “impressed with the president’s clear and unequivocal commitment to the two-state solution. He clearly is frustrated with the lack of progress, or even the existence of ongoing negotiations. I share that frustration.”

On Friday, Trump and Abbas held their first conversation since the new president took and in which he invited the PA leader to the White House to discuss the stalled peace process.

The Palestinians had expressed frustration and worry over what appears to be a US distancing from commitment to a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians, with Trump telling Netanyahu last month at a joint news conference that he “can live” with either a one- or two-state solution, a statement Palestinians slammed for breaking with decades of American policy.

Jacobs said he learned from Palestinian officials that they had previously spoken with the Trump administration, which had confirmed that US policy continues to support a two-state solution.

The URJ delegation, which arrived in Israel last Monday, also met with President Reuven Rivlin, Jewish Agency President Natan Sharansky, as well as members of the Knesset during their visit.

JTA contributed to this report.

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