President Barack Obama addressed a looming diplomatic showdown between his administration and the Palestinians regarding its intentions for statehood head-on Wednesday, devoting much of his United Nations address to the contentious subject and reiterating U.S. opposition to a vote.
Obama has been trying for months to convince the Palestinians not to bring the issue of statehood recognition up to a vote at the world body—either before its Security Council or the General Assembly—but to return to the negotiating table with Israel.
Negotiations directly with their Mideast neighbor, Obama stressed, is the only avenue for a lasting, peaceful solution to the ongoing, decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which revolves around the establishment of defined, agreed-upon borders for both, as well as for their security.
Should Palestine move for such a vote, as its officials have stated are its intention, Obama made it clear the U.S. would not support it, but without explicitly stating the U.S. would veto it. A veto would put him and his administration in a tough spot regarding his stated foreign policy, not the least of which because it would appear hypocritical.
“One year ago, I stood at this podium and called for an independent Palestine,” Obama 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.
“Israelis must know that any agreement provides assurances for their security,” he continued. “Palestinians deserve to know the territorial basis of their state. I know that many are frustrated by the lack of progress. So am I… And I am convinced that there is no short cut to the end of a conflict that has endured for decades. Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the UN.
“Peace depends upon compromise among peoples who must live together long after our speeches are over, and our votes have been counted,” he added. “That is the path to a Palestinian state.”
Members of the Palestinian delegation listened intently to Obama’s speech, which also included an historic call for tolerance of gay and lesbian rights, a focus on nuclear disarmament, the ongoing revolutions of the Arab Springs, a cordial welcome to the new delegation representing South Sudan and post-Qadhafi Libya—the latter an example of new global cooperation, Obama said—and several jabs at Iran’s nuclear ambitions and Syria’s violent response to protestors seeking democracy.
Several members of the Palestinian delegation shook their heads as Obama spoke regarding their ambitions. Their concerns were explained further afterward at a press conference by Palestinian Authority Official Dr. Nabil Shaath.
Shaath deemed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “the single-most important peace process in the world today.” Although stating he did not question Obama’s morals or his intentions, he stressed that negotiations with Israel have been unproductive and, at times, “utterly unsensical.” He specifically referred to Israel’s continuing its construction of settlements on disputed territories that the Palestinians want back, even while negotiating the land’s future ownership.
In response to a reporter’s questions regarding Iranian arms support of Hamas—recognized as a terrorist organization by the United States and Israel [and since Iran’s president has publicly called for Israel’s destruction]—Shaath stated: “We do not share with Iran this aspect of Iranian policy.”
He said Palestine would push for a vote on statehood despite knowing it would get vetoed by the United States. “We know it will not get Israel out of Palestine tomorrow,” he said, “but it will give us support [for recognition in the future].”
According to Global Financial Newswires and RTTNews, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised Obama for his remarks afterward, thanking him “for standing with Israel and supporting peace through direct negotiations.”
“We both agree that Palestinians and Israelis should sit down and negotiate an agreement of mutual recognition and security,” Netanyahu was quoted as saying. “I think this is the only way to get to a stable and durable peace.”
Obama had called for both Israelis and Palestinians to revive stalled peace negotiations in a major speech outlining U.S./Mideast policy in May, in which he endorsed a Palestinian demand that Israel return to pre-1967 Six Day War borders. The U.S. State Department confirmed earlier this month that should the issue of Palestinian statehood come before the U.N. Security Council, the United States would veto it.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was expected to address the world body later in the day.