Palestinian Bid for U.N. Recognition Weighs Heavily on Obama

Sep 20, 2011 12:21pm

As President Obama gets ready to address the United Nations General Assembly Wednesday, the Palestinian bid for  U.N. recognition weighs heavily over this week’s proceedings as the White House and its allies scramble to prevent a showdown, and critics, including the two leading Republican presidential candidates, say the Palestinian quest for statehood highlights Obama’s failed Middle East peace strategy.  

Last year, Obama said in his address to the  U.N. General Assembly that, working together, a peace agreement might be possible by the time of the  next meeting. “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.”

Today, however, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas is readying to bring his bid for statehood to the U.N.  Friday, a move the U.S. strongly rejects and has vowed to veto. 

“Right now, we could not be clearer that we have for some time now opposed Palestinian efforts to pursue statehood on a unilateral basis through the United Nations.  And it’s the United States that is working very aggressively to make that case and to make that clear to all the parties involved, including making clear that we would veto any actions in the Security Council,” Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes told reporters today. 

In the meantime, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her allies are engaged in an intensive diplomatic negotiations to present an alternative plan that would allow for the negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians to resume. 

“We are engaged in extremely intensive ongoing diplomacy, reaching out to not only the parties but to all of the people who are here for the U.N. General Assembly.  And we continue to believe and are pressing the point that the only way to a two-state solution, which is what we support and want to see happen, is through negotiations.  And no matter what does or doesn’t happen this week, it will not produce the kind of outcome that everyone is hoping for.  So we’re going to stay very much engaged and focused,” Clinton said Monday. 

“I think it’s early in the week.  A lot of people are not even here yet.  There’s been an enormous number of meetings by many different parties talking to each other.  And I want to be fully informed about all of those conversations.  But I think that everyone knows our position and, obviously, our goal is a two-state solution, and that’s what we’re going to keep working towards,” Clinton said. 

While President Obama is scheduled to meet one-on-one with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu this week, there are no plans for him to meet with Abbas. However, Rhodes said today that he “certainly wouldn’t rule out their ability to have a conversation over the course of the next few days.”

Republicans vying for the president’s job have pounced on the issue as an opportunity to speak out against Obama’s Middle East policies. In a statement this morning, former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney said that the Palestinian push for statehood represents “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 plans to get in on the action. In a speech later today, Perry will reportedly say that Americans are “indignant” about the “Obama administration’s Middle East policy of appeasement. Our muddle of a foreign policy has created great uncertainty in the midst of the Arab Spring.  

Kirit Radia and Michael Falcone contributed to this reporting.

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