In a last-ditch attempt to prevent a showdown with the Palestinian territorities over their bid for statehood at the United Nations later this week, President Obama argued his case for a two-state Middle East solution before the General Assembly today, saying that “peace depends upon compromise among peoples who must live together long after our speeches are over, and our votes have been counted.”
“Peace is hard,” an impassioned Obama said repeatedly in his annual address before the U.N. General Assembly. “I am convinced that there is no shortcut to the end of a conflict that has endured for decades. Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the U.N. — if it were that easy, it would have been accomplished by now. Ultimately, it is Israelis and Palestinians who must live side by side. Ultimately, it is Israelis and Palestinians – not us — who must reach agreement on the issues that divide them: on borders and security; on refugees and Jerusalem,” he said.
While the U.S. and its allies had been scrambling to convince Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to abandon his bid for recognition in the U.N. Security Council Friday, they have now pivoted to mitigating its effect and establishing a path back toward negotiations with Israel.
Obama is scheduled to meet one-on-one with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later this morning. In a last- minute addition to the schedule, Obama will also meet with Abbas Wednesday evening.
While Obama and Netanyahu have had a strained relationship in the past, Obama made it clear today that “America’s commitment to Israel’s security is unshakable, and our friendship with Israel is deep and enduring.”
But Obama was also adamant that “we seek a future where Palestinians live in a sovereign state of their own, with no limit to what they can achieve. There is no question that the Palestinians have seen that vision delayed for too long.”
Faced with a flailing economy, low approval ratings and a Congress unwilling to compromise, Obama now finds himself adding the Middle East to his already full political plate.
Republicans vying for the president’s job have pounced on the issue as an opportunity to condemn Obama’s foreign policies. Former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney said Tuesday that the Palestinian push for statehood represented “the culmination of President Obama’s repeated efforts over three years to throw Israel under the bus and undermine its negotiating position.”
Romney also suggested that “if the Palestinian Authority succeeds in gaining any type of U.N. recognition, the United States will cut foreign assistance to the Palestinians, as well as re-evaluate its funding of U.N. programs and its relationship with any nation voting in favor of recognition.”
Texas Gov. Rick Perry also assailed the president, blaming his “naive and arrogant, misguided and dangerous” strategy for the Palestinians push for statehood.
“The Obama policy of moral equivalency, which gives equal standing to the grievances of Israelis and Palestinians, including the orchestrators of terrorism, is a very dangerous insult,” Perry said.
Last year in his General Assembly address, Obama called for an independent Palestine and said he hoped that this year there would be a new member Palestinian state alongside Israel at the U.N.
“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,” Obama said in September 2010. “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.”
So what went wrong? “One year later, despite extensive efforts by America and others, the parties have not bridged their differences,” Obama explained today. “Israelis must know that any agreement provides assurances for their security. Palestinians deserve to know the territorial basis of their state. I know that many are frustrated by the lack of progress. So am I. But the question isn’t the goal we seek – the question is how to reach it.”
The Middle East was only one of several foreign policy issues that the president took on today. Obama also praised the many democratic movements going on around the world, from Libya and Egypt to Tunisia and South Sudan.
“This year has been a time of transformation. More nations have stepped forward to maintain international peace and security. And more individuals are claiming their universal right to live in freedom and dignity,” he said.
The president lauded the progress in Libya and the determination of the rebel fighters to attain freedom. With U.S. support, the Transitional National Council was recently seated as a representative of the Libya government at the U.N.
“One year ago, the people of Libya were ruled by the world’s longest serving dictator. But faced with bullets and bombs and a dictator who threatened to hunt them down like rats, they showed relentless bravery. We will never forget the words of the Libyan who stood up in those early days of revolution and said, ‘Our words are free now. It’s a feeling you can’t explain,’” Obama said.