US President Barack Obama called on Israel to extend the freeze on West Bank construction in a speech to the annual session of the UN General Assembly on Thursday in New York.
Obama exhorted the world to unite around the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, challenging the United Nations to support an agreement that would create an independent Palestine and a secure Israel in a year's time.
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The US president called on world leaders to cast aside decades of division over the conflict, overcome cynicism and prove their support for a settlement to be reached by the two sides that his administration is now pushing against long odds.
Without a deal, he said, "more blood will be shed" and "this Holy Land will remain a symbol of our differences, instead of our common humanity."
"If an agreement is not reached, Palestinians will never know the pride and dignity that comes with their own state," he said. "Israelis will never know the certainty and security that comes with sovereign and stable neighbors who are committed to coexistence."
"Those of us who are friends of Israel must understand that true security for the Jewish state requires an independent Palestine," he said. "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," he said. "But these pledges must now be supported by deeds."
Obama urged the UN in its 60th year to look beyond past Middle East peace failures and get on with the task at hand.
"We can come back here, next year, as we have for the last 60, and make long speeches about it," he stated. "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 do that," he said. "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 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 state of
Palestine, living in peace with Israel."
Following Obama's address, Israel Radio quoted government sources as saying that the speech was fair and balanced.
The sources reportedly said that although Obama called on Israel to extend the moratorium on building in West Bank settlements, the US president did not state that a failure to do so should qualify as a reason for Palestinians to abandon the negotiations.
Obama also called for Iran to demonstrate a "clear and credible commitment" to a peaceful nuclear program while addressing the United Nations General Assembly.
At the same time, the US president told fellow world leaders that the "door remains open to diplomacy should Iran choose to walk through it." But Obama also noted that he made the same overture — in the same forum — a year ago, and tensions continue.