NEW YORK – US President Barack Obama told the UN General Assembly on Wednesday that there could be “no shortcuts” to peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, and that negotiations between the two parties would be the only means to achieving a true and lasting peace.
In his 20-minute speech before the international body, Obama devoted significant time to discussing the Israeli- Palestinian conflict.
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Obama alluded to his remarks before the General Assembly in 2010. In that speech, he had expressed his hope that there would be a Palestinian state requesting membership in 2011 – remarks that could be seen as prescient in light of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s plans to petition the Security Council to recognize Palestine as a state.
However, Obama distinguished between what he had said last year and the situation before the international body today.
“One year ago, I stood at this podium and called for an independent Palestine,” the US president said. “I believed then – and I believe now – that the Palestinian people deserve a state of their own. But what I also said is that genuine peace can only be realized between Israelis and Palestinians themselves.”
Noting that one year later, Israelis and Palestinians “have not bridged their differences,” Obama iterated the American position – albeit implicitly rather than explicitly referencing Abbas – that peace can only be achieved through bilateral negotiations.
“Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the UN – if it were that easy, it would have been accomplished by now,” Obama said. “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.”
Peace, he said, “depends upon compromise among peoples who must live together long after our speeches are over, and our votes have been counted.”
The president cited Northern Ireland and southern Sudan as examples of people who put aside their differences in the name of compromise and a livable peace: “That is the path to a Palestinian state.”
While emphasizing his support for an independent Palestinian state, Obama did so comparatively briefly. He characterized America’s commitment to Israel’s security as “unshakeable,” highlighting instances of attacks on Israel and referencing the Holocaust.
“America’s commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable, and our friendship with Israel is deep and enduring,” Obama said. “And so we believe that any lasting peace must acknowledge the very real security concerns that Israel faces every single day.
“Let’s be honest: Israel is surrounded by neighbors that have waged repeated wars against it.
Israel’s citizens have been killed by rockets fired at their houses and suicide bombs on their buses. Israel’s children come of age knowing that throughout the region, other children are taught to hate them,” the president said. “Israel, a small country of less than eight million people, looks out at a world where leaders of much larger nations threaten to wipe it off of the map.
“The Jewish people carry the burden of centuries of exile, persecution, and the fresh memory of knowing that six million people were killed simply because of who they were,” the president said.
Saying that the Jewish people “have forged a successful state in their historic homeland,” Obama said, “Israel deserves recognition.
“It deserves normal relations with its neighbors. And friends of the Palestinians do them no favors by ignoring this truth, just as friends of Israel must recognize the need to pursue a twostate solution with a secure Israel next to an independent Palestine.
“That truth – that each side has legitimate aspirations – is what makes peace so hard,” Obama said. “And the deadlock will only be broken when each side learns to stand in each other’s shoes.
“It is incumbent upon the UN,” he said, to “recognize the reality that is lived by both the Palestinians and the Israelis.
“The measure of our actions must always be whether they advance the right of Israeli and Palestinian children to live in peace and security, with dignity and opportunity,” Obama said.
“We will only succeed in that effort if we can encourage the parties to sit down together, to listen to each other, and to understand each other’s hopes and fears. That is the project to which America is committed.
And that is what the United Nations should be focused on in the weeks ahead.”
Obama also referenced events in other parts of the world.
While applauding protesters who demonstrated in the name of democracy, he said the Security Council should sanction the Syrian regime and stand with the Syrian people.
Obama also said Iran and North Korea must be held accountable for their nuclear proliferation. No other single issue, however, commanded as much time in his speech as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
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