We can learn something about Israel and Palestine from the speeches at the United Nations by the so-called President of Palestine and the Prime Minister of Israel.. One should note the "so-called" status of the Palestinian, insofar as his term expired in January 2009, and the Palestinians of Gaza recognize someone else as President.
Several conclusions are reasonable. None can be offered with any certainty that it is the full story, objectively told. In the nature of such speeches, there is no end to the assessments of what the speakers intended to convey, what various audiences perceived as their message, and how the speeches will interact with other events to shape whatever comes next.
One reasonable conclusion--by one who has lived with the issues up close for more than half of a long life--is that Abbas spoke as the miserable leader of a weak entity, expressing helplessness and dependence by trying to blame someone else for what has been produced in his own regime by decades of corruption and missed opportunities, and seeking even more help from the UN agency that has coddled four generations of Palestinians. Nowhere in his language is a recognition of Jewish rights. He spoke about the persecution of Muslims and Christians, neglecting to note the it it mostly Muslim persecution that has emptied Bethlehem, Ramallah, and Jerusalem of what had been Christian majorities..
"Palestine is intricately linked with the . . . United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees . . . which embodies the international responsibility towards the plight of Palestine refugees, who are the victims of Al-Nakba (Catastrophe) that occurred in 1948. . . . Settlement activities embody the core of the policy of colonial military occupation of the land of the Palestinian people and all of the brutality of aggression and racial discrimination against our people.. . systematic confiscation of the Palestinian lands and the construction of thousands of new settlement units in various areas of the West Bank, particularly in East Jerusalem, and accelerated construction of the annexation Wall that is eating up large tracts of our land, dividing it into separate and isolated islands and cantons, destroying family life and communities and the livelihoods of tens of thousands of families. . . . under a multi-pronged policy of ethnic cleansing aimed at pushing them away from their ancestral homeland. . . . The occupying Power also continues to undertake excavations that threaten our holy places, and its military checkpoints prevent our citizens from getting access to their mosques and churches . . . and to target Palestinian civilians by assassinations, air strikes and artillery shelling, persisting with its war of aggression of three years ago on Gaza, which resulted in massive destruction of homes, schools, hospitals, and mosques, and the thousands of martyrs and wounded."
Netahnayu barely mentioned Palestine. And when he did, it was to chide Abbas (and perhaps threaten some kind of retaliation) for the speech he had given an hour earlier from the same podium. One can also read Netanyahu as including Palestinians within the culture of backwardness, and darkness that has brought misery throughout the Middle East and threatens the forces of modernization and enlightenment in whose camp he firmly placed Israel.
"We seek to forge a durable peace with the Palestinians. President Abbas just spoke here. I say to him and I say to you: We won''t solve our conflict with libelous speeches at the UN. That''s not the way to solve it. We won''t solve our conflict with unilateral declarations of statehood. We have to sit together, negotiate together, and reach a mutual compromise, in which a demilitarized Palestinian state recognizes the one and only Jewish State.Israel wants to see a Middle East of progress and peace. We want to see the three great religions that sprang forth from our region – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – coexist in peace and in mutual respect. Yet the medieval forces of radical Islam, whom you just saw storming the American embassies throughout the Middle East, they oppose this."
Netanyahu''s principal mission went beyond Palestine or the peace process, widely viewed in Israel to be stalled or in deep coma due largely to internal Palestinian conflicts and intransigence. The incidence of Israeli Jews blaming Israel for the stall may be measured by the 11 (out f 120) Knesset Members of Meretz and Labor.
Iran was the purpose of Netanyahu''s UN appearance. His cartoon depiction of the red line that should be drawn against that country''s nuclear program was the high point of his speech. And insofar as Netanyahu with his poster appeared on the front pages of major newspapers in several countries, it may be fair to consider it the high point of the UN session.
Commentators and comedians have dealt with Netanyahu as poster boy, with the more generous of them recognizing that he was not trying to simplify what is a major task of technological and political analysis, as much as he was portraying the appropriate response to Iran as equivalent to what should have been done about Nazi Germany in the 1930s.
One can wonder, or argue, as to whether his red line was criticism of what Barack Obama has not said, i.e., parallel to his use of the phrase "libelous speeches" about what Abbas had said. Netanyahu spoke positively about the American President.
"For over seven years, the international community has tried sanctions with Iran. Under the leadership of President Obama, the international community has passed some of the strongest sanctions to date."
How much of this is fence mending by a prime minister who has been the annoyer in chef of the Obama White House, and how much is damning by faint praise?
We should remember Netanyahu''s frequent statements that sanctions have been too little and too late.
And is this praise, or further annoyance by asserting that Netanyahu will provide the red line that Obama has failed to specify?
"Two days ago, from this podium, President Obama reiterated that the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran cannot be contained. I very much appreciate the President''s position as does everyone in my country. We share the goal of stopping Iran''s nuclear weapons program. This goal unites the people of Israel. It unites Americans, Democrats and Republicans alike and it is shared by important leaders throughout the world. What I have said today will help ensure that this common goal is achieved."
Public speeches are only a part, and perhaps the least important part of international relations. They are crafted for audiences in the speaker''s domestic arena as well as in foreign venues.
The cartoonist of Ha''aretz dedicated two of his daily efforts to the speech. Friday''s showed an upbeat Netanyahu on his way to the UN podium passing a downcast Abbas. Sunday''s has Netanyahu relaxing at his desk with a satisfied gaze at a model of the red-lined bomb.
A splash of cold water on Netanyahu came from Ronald Lauder, son of the cosmetic baroness, financer, philanthropist, and activist in the United States and Israel, once a confidant of Netanyahu, and currently the President of the World Jewish Conress. The German magazine Der Spiegal headlines "Das wäre ein Desaster" an article quoting his warning against an Israeli attack without the help of its principal ally, the United States.
The plenary sessions of the United Nations General Assembly provide an assembly line for national leaders to make their presentations one after the other, separated by the polite applause of jaded diplomats. One can be impressed with the institutionalization of a world forum that has managed to survive almost 70 years of crises without going the way of the League of Nations.
We won''t know for some time if Abbas speech will do aything more than express an bitter plea from a condition of helplessness, and produce nothing more than continued welfare payments. And if Netanyahu''s speech was only a blip in the media, or an episode on the way to yet another crisis that will test the capacity of the "international community" to keep things like that from happening.