President Barack Obama's speech today to the United Nations general assembly (full text here) called for the world to join him in pushing for Israel-Palestine peace and a two-state solution. Direct peace talks, of which there have been three so far, have struggled against expanding Israeli settlements and unclear Palestinian polital unity. Will Obama's appeal to the United Nations make a difference? What does it mean for the U.S.-Israel-Palestine triangle and for the world's most important multilateral institution, the UN? The relevant section of Obama's speech is posted below the reactions.
About Pressuring Israel and Palestine The New York Times' David Sanger and Jack Healy write, "Mr. Obama also called on Israel to extend its freeze on building new Jewish settlements in the West Bank, construction that is one of the most contentious issues between Israelis and Palestinians. The moratorium is set to expire this weekend, and hard-won talks could be stymied if the Israelis fail to extend it and the Palestinians decide to walk away from the table. ... Clashes on Wednesday between Israeli security forces and Palestinians in the Old City of Jerusalem underscored the fragile state of affairs in the region and the potential of violent outbursts if the negotiations fall apart."
- Rightly Considering It Top Priority Think Progress's Matt Duss writes, "It’s easy — and, given the state of negotiations, on a knife’s edge over whether Israel will extend its settlement moratorium and amid some of the worst unrest in East Jerusalem in years, probably not entirely incorrect — to be cynical about the prospects for a peace deal in the near future. But it’s a testament to the centrality of the conflict to a number of other U.S. challenges in the region, and the strong U.S. national security consensus around the reality of those linkages, that the president has chosen to put his political and diplomatic capital, and America’s, behind this effort right now."
- As Obama Speaks, Difficult Climate in Israel The New America Foundation's Andrew Lebovich points out, "The violent clashes currently underway in East Jerusalem, sparked by the shooting of a Palestinian man by a private guard protecting Israeli settlers, have once again demonstrated the volatility and hair-trigger tensions in Jerusalem and in the region that can explode at the slightest provocation. Yet even as riot police are dispersing Palestinians in the Old City, direct talks between Palestinians and Israelis continue, President Obama yesterday at the United Nations called for greater international efforts to create a true Palestinian state, and a poll of Palestinians in the Occupied West Bank and Gaza found that nearly 60% of respondents oppose attacks against Israel, and 54% believed the new round of talks would be beneficial to them (even though nearly 56% said they did not believe the talks would change the status quo)."
- Pressuring Arab States Foreign Policy's Josh Rogin writes, "President Obama delivered his second speech at the United Nations Thursday morning, giving a full-throated defense of his first 20 months in office and a sober assessment of the challenges that lie ahead. He pled for the world to aggressively support the U.S.-led direct peace negotiations between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority. Specifically, he called on Arab nations to demonstrate their support through changes in policy that could help repair relations between Israel and its neighbors." Obama said, "Many in this hall count themselves as friends of the Palestinians. But these pledges must now be supported by deeds. Those who have signed on to the Arab Peace Initiative should seize this opportunity to make it real by taking tangible steps toward the normalization that it promises Israel. Those who speak out for Palestinian self-government should help the Palestinian Authority politically and financially, and - in so doing - help the Palestinians build the institutions of their state. And those who long to see an independent Palestine rise must stop trying to tear Israel down."
- The Relevant Section of Obama's Speech
Last year, I pledged my best efforts to support the goal of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security, as part of a comprehensive peace between Israel and all of its neighbors. We have travelled a winding road over the last twelve months, with few peaks and many valleys. But this month, I am pleased that we have pursued direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians in Washington, Sharm el-Sheikh and Jerusalem.
Now, many are pessimistic about this process. The cynics say that Israelis and Palestinians are too distrustful of each other, and too divided internally, to forge lasting peace. Rejectionists on both sides will try to disrupt the process, with bitter words and with bombs. Some say that the gaps between the parties are too big; the potential for talks to break down is too great; and that after decades of failure, peace is simply not possible.
But consider the alternative. If an agreement is not reached, Palestinians will never know the pride and dignity that comes with their own state. Israelis will never know the certainty and security that comes with sovereign and stable neighbors who are committed to co-existence. The hard realities of demography will take hold. More blood will be shed. This Holy Land will remain a symbol of our differences, instead of our common humanity.
I refuse to accept that future. We all have a choice to make. And each of us must choose the path of peace. That responsibility begins with the parties themselves, who must answer the call of history. Earlier this month, at the White House, I was struck by the words of both the Israeli and Palestinian leaders. Prime Minister Netanyahu said, "I came here today to find an historic compromise that will enable both people to live in peace, security, and dignity." President Abbas said, "We will spare no effort and we will work diligently and tirelessly to ensure these negotiations achieve their cause."
These words must be followed by action, and I believe that both leaders have the courage to do so. But the road that they have to travel is difficult, which is why I call upon Israelis and Palestinians - and the world - to rally behind the goal that these leaders share. We know there will be tests along the way, and that one is fast approaching. Israel's settlement moratorium has made a difference on the ground, and improved the atmosphere for talks. Our position on this issue is well known. We believe that the moratorium should be extended. We also believe that talks should press on until completed. Now is the time for the parties to help each other overcome this obstacle. Now is the time to build the trust - and provide the time - for substantial progress to be made. Now is the time for this opportunity to be seized, so that it doesn't slip away.
Peace must be made by Israelis and Palestinians, but each of us has a responsibility to do our part as well. Those of us who are friends of Israel must understand that true security for the Jewish state requires an independent Palestine - one that allows the Palestinian people to live with dignity and opportunity. And those of us who are friends of the Palestinians must understand that the rights of the Palestinian people will be won only through peaceful means - including genuine reconciliation with a secure Israel.
Many in this hall count themselves as friends of the Palestinians. But these pledges must now be supported by deeds. Those who have signed on to the Arab Peace Initiative should seize this opportunity to make it real by taking tangible steps toward the normalization that it promises Israel. Those who speak out for Palestinian self-government should help the Palestinian Authority politically and financially, and - in so doing - help the Palestinians build the institutions of their state. And those who long to see an independent Palestine rise must stop trying to tear Israel down.
After thousands of years, Jews and Arabs are not strangers in a strange land. And after sixty years in the community of nations, Israel's existence must not be a subject for debate. Israel is a sovereign state, and the historic homeland of the Jewish people. It should be clear to all that efforts to chip away at Israel's legitimacy will only be met by the unshakeable opposition of the United States. And efforts to threaten or kill Israelis will do nothing to help the Palestinian people - the slaughter of innocent Israelis is not resistance, it is injustice. Make no mistake: the courage of a man like President Abbas - who stands up for his people in front of the world - is far greater than those who fire rockets at innocent women and children.
The conflict between Israelis and Arabs is as old as this institution. And we can come back here, next year, as we have for the last sixty, and make long speeches about it. We can read familiar lists of grievances. We can table the same resolutions. We can further empower the forces of rejectionism and hate. We can waste more time by carrying forward an argument that will not help a single Israeli or Palestinian child achieve a better life. We can do that.
Or, we can say that this time will be different - that this time we will not let terror, or turbulence, or posturing, or petty politics stand in the way. This time, we will think not of ourselves, but of the young girl in Gaza who wants to have no ceiling on her dreams, or the young boy in Sderot who wants to sleep without the nightmare of rocket fire. This time, we should draw upon the teachings of tolerance that lie at the heart of three great religions that see Jerusalem's soil as sacred. This time we should reach for what's best within ourselves. If we do, when we come back here next year, we can have an agreement that will lead to a new member of the United Nations - an independent, sovereign state of Palestine, living in peace with Israel.