NEW YORK -- The US will pursue a peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians that breaks with traditions from past diplomatic efforts, President Donald Trump told the UN General Assembly on Tuesday.
Addressing the body for the second time, Trump defended his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital as a move in advancement of peace. The policy announcement in December prompted a rare rebuke of the US from General Assembly members.
Middle East peace, Trump argued, “is advanced, not harmed, by acknowledging the obvious facts.”
“America’s policy of principled realism means we will not be held hostage to old dogmas [supported by] so-called experts that have been proven wrong time and time again,” he told the gathering.
Trump spoke only briefly on his peace effort, repeating his commitment to ending the storied conflict. He referred to Israel as “a thriving democracy in the Holy Land.” The president’s top Mideast diplomats are in New York this week participating in high-level meetings between the president and regional leaders.
In his remarks, Trump also mentioned the emergence of a “regional strategic alliance” around common interests, noting that many countries in the Middle East supported his decision to withdraw from a nuclear deal with Iran brokered by the UN Security Council.
“The Iran deal was a windfall for Iran’s leaders,” Trump said. “Iran’s leaders sow chaos, death and destruction. They do not respect their neighbors or borders, or the sovereign rights of nations.”
America’s withdrawal from the deal means that US sanctions on Iran – and secondary sanctions on entities conducting business there – have been snapping back into place. The harshest set of sanctions lifted by the 2015 deal will return on November 5, but Trump also warned that additional sanctions would be forthcoming.
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani rejected overtures from the president to meet while in New York for the second year in a row. Trump wrote of the rejection on Twitter: “Despite requests, I have no plans to meet Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Maybe someday in the future. I am sure he is an absolutely lovely man!” The president is expected to focus on Iran’s policies in the region when he chairs a UN Security Council session on Wednesday.
He offered only praise for Arab leaders, including Saudi Arabia, which he said was entering a promising period of reform with the leadership of its crown prince, Muhammad bin Salman. He praised Gulf nations for “taking more responsibility for fighting terrorism and extremism in their own region.
“The Gulf countries opened a new center to target terrorist financing. They are enforcing new sanctions, working with us,” Trump said.
He also explained his decision to withdraw the US from several UN bodies that have historically been hostile to Israel, not citing their biases against the Jewish state but rather his broader policy on protecting US sovereignty and reevaluating US foreign aid. He said the US would not return to the Human Rights Council “until real reform is enacted,” and chastised the International Criminal Court as an “unelected, unaccountable” body with “no jurisdiction, no legitimacy and no authority.”
Trump is scheduled to meet on Wednesday with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who will address the General Assembly the following day.
PLO chief negotiator Saeb Erekat attacked Trump’s words stating, “His administration has closed the doors to peace and cannot play a role in peacemaking by stating that his decision to move his embassy to Israel to Jerusalem, in violation of Security Council resolution 478, was a ‘recognition of reality.’ “Rather, what his administration did, and continues to do, is to reward and incentivize violations of international law, colonization, war crimes, and apartheid.
“The reality today is that due to the one-sided pro-Israel decisions of the US administration, peace between Palestinians and Israelis have been derailed. Peace is a real need for... Palestinians, Israelis and the people of the region, and can be achieved with the realization of the two states solution, the ‘State of Palestine’ with east Jerusalem as its capital, to live in peace and security side by side the State of Israel on the 1967 borders.” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was mid-air on his way to the United States at the time of Trump’s speech, but other Israeli pol- iticians warmly welcomed his words.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said, “At the club of hypocrites and fakers called the ‘United Nations’ we heard today an impressive speech by US President Donald Trump. It’s been years since the world stage has seen a leader who understands the Middle East, addresses the Iranian threat and sets red lines for [Syrian President Bashar] Assad. I hope world leaders will listen and internalize [his words].”
Construction Minister Yoav Gallant said, “Trump, you are a friend. Israel knows who to deal with its enemies. It is good to know, however, that there are those who really stand by us.
“The US President has proven, once again that we have someone we can trust in the White House, which is the most important place after Jerusalem.” Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.
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