Obama UNGA 248.88.
(photo credit: AP [file])
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu praised US President Barack Obama's UN address Wednesday, which backed Israel's right to live securely, stressed its legitimacy as a "Jewish state," and urged the Palestinians to relaunch negotiations without preconditions.
The speech was "good and positive" for Israel and for moving the peace process forward, the prime minister told The Jerusalem Post.
"He said what we have been saying for months, that we need to restart negotiations without preconditions," Netanyahu said, a few hours after Obama's address at the UN General Assembly.
Netanyahu also said it was important that "Obama spoke clearly in his speech about Israel as a Jewish state. The lack of recognition of that fact is the root of the problem."
Obama, in his first UN speech to the General Assembly, also addressed the threat posed by Iran and North Korea, railed against al-Qaida and terrorism and called for greater action from the world community.
He especially challenged the international community to make good on its talk of wanting to see peace between Israelis and Palestinians, in an address that spent considerably more time on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than on many other global issues.
"All of us, not just the Israelis and the Palestinians but all of us, must decide whether we are serious about peace, or whether we only lend it lip service," Obama said. "To break the old patterns - to break the cycle of insecurity and despair - all of us must say publicly what we would acknowledge in private."
He also implicitly chided the world organization for having devoted considerably more time and attention to chronicling alleged Israeli misdeeds.
"Nations within this body do the Palestinians no favors when they choose vitriolic attacks over a constructive willingness to recognize Israel's legitimacy, and its right to exist in peace and security," he said to some applause.
The applause was slightly louder, however, when he also said that "the United States does Israel no favors when we fail to couple an unwavering commitment to its security with an insistence that Israel respect the legitimate claims and rights of the Palestinians."
He stressed that "The time has come to relaunch negotiations - without preconditions. The goal is clear: two states living side by side in peace and security - a Jewish state of Israel, with true security for all Israelis, and a viable, independent Palestinian state with contiguous territory that ends the occupation that began in 1967, and realizes the potential of the Palestinian people."
Israel's Ambassador to the US Michael Oren also noted the importance of Obama's reference to Israel as a "Jewish state," recognition Israel is insisting upon as part of any final-status deal with the Palestinians.
Israel was gratified to hear the president's "reiteration of the US commitment to Israel's security, and for his reiteration of recognition of Israel as a Jewish state," Oren said.
He said Israel was also pleased that the president supported a multilateral track to bring about peace between Israel and all its neighbors, and not just a bilateral track.
Netanyahu told reporters that he "listened very carefully to President Obama's call to the Arab countries to come out publicly and support moving regional peace forward, and the appreciation he articulated for the easing of restrictions in Judea and Samaria that the government has carried out in the last few months to improve the living conditions of the Palestinian population and upgrade their economy."
Netanyahu said Obama's comments were the product of the intensive talks that had taken place between the US and Israel, Israel's "transparent policies," and the "good will of both sides."
Obama also, however, continued to emphasize that "America does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements," at the same time that he called on the Palestinians to end incitement against Israel.
Regarding whether Obama's characterization of the settlements was significant, Netanyahu told the Post that what was important was that Obama made clear that the issue should not hold up the talks.
Oren downplayed the issue, telling the Post that this has been Washington's policy since the days of president Jimmy Carter, who took it one step further and - for a brief period - called the settlements "illegal."
Asked if he agreed with the characterization of Obama as not being a friend of Israel, Netanyahu told the Post that during his Cairo speech earlier this year, Obama had stood up and said that the relationship between Israel and the US was "an unshakeable bond."
"I think these are important things that need to be appreciated, precisely from this president," he said.
Israel also listened carefully to the speech for Obama's statements on Iran's nuclear threat, as the UN Security Council is the international forum in which sanctions have previously been passed and through which Jerusalem would like to see greater pressure applied.
In his speech, Obama singled out Iran and North Korea for a rebuke on their pursuit of nuclear weapons, stressing that he prefers diplomacy but that "they must be held accountable" if they spurn international demands.
"The world must stand together to demonstrate that international law is not an empty promise, and that treaties will be enforced," Obama declared, referring to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. "We must insist that the future does not belong to fear."
Obama emphasized his preference for diplomacy, saying, "I've said before and I will repeat, I am committed to diplomacy that opens a path to greater prosperity and more secure peace for both nations if they live up to their obligations."
But he also said, "In their actions to date, the governments of North Korea and Iran threaten to take us down this dangerous slope."
He continued, "If the governments of Iran and North Korea choose to ignore international standards; if they put the pursuit of nuclear weapons ahead of regional stability and the security and opportunity of their own people; if they are oblivious to the dangers of escalating nuclear arms races in both East Asia and the Middle East - then they must be held accountable."
Obama began his priority list by stressing the need to stop the spread of nuclear weapons.
"We must never allow a single nuclear device to fall into the hands of a violent extremist," he said.