Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Obama's Little-Noticed Words Could Put U.S. in a Bind

VIDEO: Israel, Jordan on Edge as Protests Spread
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So many promises have been made and commitments broken in the insufferably long Israeli-Palestinian conflict that few Americans took note of the goal President Obama set during the annual United Nations General Assembly meeting last September -- he set September 2011 as a target date for achieving a Middle East peace deal that would allow for U.N. recognition of Palestine.

The rest of the world, however, heard Obama's words, and that could mean some difficult decisions for the U.S administration in the months ahead.

The September 2011 deadline was quickly endorsed by the European Union, and much of the world. At the time, there was a glimmer of hope in the Middle East: Israelis and Palestinians had had their first direct negotiations in nearly two years, and leaders on both sides declared they wanted peace.

A few days later, Obama addressed the world's leaders with the message that the stalemate could end. "The conflict between Israelis and Arabs is as old as this institution. We could come back next year as we have for the last 60 and make long speeches and read familiar list of grievances," said Obama. "Or we can say this time will be different. ... If we do, we can come back next year, we can have an agreement that will lead to a new member of the United Nations."

But within weeks of Obama's General Assembly address, after the end of a moratorium on new Israeli settlement construction, talks between both sides broke down. An increase in rocket and mortar attacks alongside the smuggling of weapons by Hamas has since exacerbated the situation.

Recently, Palestinian leaders have been using the president's words to lobby nations to formally recognize Palestine -- defined by its 1967 borders -- when the General Assembly reconvenes in September.

But many see these efforts as a way to circumvent direct peace negotiations with Israel.

"It is irresponsible, particularly at a moment when the Middle East is in flames," said Ruth Wedgewood, an international law expert at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. "It jumps the gun in the way that destroys the roadmap process that, ironically, the U.N. was party to. It allows Hamas to say Israel is crossing an international border and illegally waging war."

More than 100 nations have said they already recognize Palestine as a state. Gaining U.N. membership typically requires a recommendation from the Security Council and the approval by two-thirds of the General Assembly, or 128 countries.

The U.S., which has a veto in the Security Council, has so far rejected Palestinian bids for recognition as an independent state without first brokering a peace deal with Israel.

"We do not support any unilateral effort by the Palestinians to go to the United Nations to try to obtain some authorization approval, vote, with respect to statehood, because we think you can only achieve the two-state solution, through negotiation," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in an interview with Charlie Rose last week.

But the prospects of this happening grow by the day.

Thursday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas met in Paris with French President Nicolas Sarkozy. French diplomats in the United Nations have signaled, along with other European allies, that they are strongly considering U.N. recognition of Palestine as a way to jump-start the stalled peace process.

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