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Obama tells U.N: Palestinian statehood bid is no shortcut to peace in Middle East

by julie pace, associated press

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President Barack Obama declared this week that there could be no shortcut to peace between Israel and the Palestinians, as he sought to head off a United Nations showdown over Palestinian statehood.

“Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the United Nations — if it were that easy, it would have been accomplished by now,” Obama said in a Sept. 21 speech to the U.N. General Assembly. “Ultimately, it is the Israelis and the Palestinians who must live side by side.

“Ultimately, it is the Israelis and the Palestinians — not us — who must reach agreement on the issues that divide them.”

Youths from Israeli settlements in the West Bank wave Israeli  flags at the start of a Sept. 20 protest march against Palestinian statehood.   photo/ap/ariel schalit
Youths from Israeli settlements in the West Bank wave Israeli flags at the start of a Sept. 20 protest march against Palestinian statehood. photo/ap/ariel schalit
Obama forcefully defended his opposition to the Palestinians’ plan to seek statehood recognition from the U.N. Security Council — an initiative that has become a thorny diplomatic problem for his administration. However, he did not directly call on the Palestinians to drop the bid, or offer a clear path forward in its place.

Still, his administration has said it will veto the Palestinians’ statehood bid if it comes to a vote in the Security Council. Should the Palestinians seek lesser non-member state status through the General Assembly, the U.S. likely will stand virtually alone, with Israel and a handful of other countries, in a vote that would be expected to pass.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was expected to formally request U.N. membership on Friday, Sept. 23, in a speech to the General Assembly; however, both the Security Council (voting on full Palestinian membership) and the General Assembly (voting on the declaration of an independent Palestinian state) will postpone any votes on the matter, for a few days or even weeks, the Israeli daily Ha’aretz reported this week.

With the limits of U.S. influence on the moribund peace process never more clear, Obama had no new demands for the Israelis, beyond repeating his position that both sides deserved their own state and security and should return to the negotiating table to achieve it.

Behind the scenes, U.S. diplomats were working furiously to get Abbas to moderate his plans, but it was not clear they would be successful.

“Peace depends upon compromise among peoples who must live together long after our speeches are over, and our votes have been counted,” Obama said. “That is the path to a Palestinian state.”

After the speech, Obama went into a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. There he affirmed the U.S. commitment to Israel’s security. Later Sept. 21, he was to meet with Abbas, where Obama was expected to privately ask him to essentially drop the move for statehood recognition after Abbas delivers a formal letter of intent to the U.N. on Friday, Sept. 23 (Initially, the White House said that Obama was not scheduled to meet with Abbas.)

It’s a much different situation than Obama had hoped for a year ago, when he wanted to herald by now a negotiated agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians. U.S. persuasion and pressure failed to achieve that result and now peace again looks distant. Obama put the blame for that on Israel and the Palestinians.

“Despite extensive efforts by America and others, the parties have not bridged their differences,” Obama said.

A new approach being considered this week would see the Quartet — the Mideast peace mediation team of the U.S., European Union, United Nations and Russia — issue a statement addressing both Palestinian and Israeli concerns and setting a timetable for a return to the long-stalled peace talks, officials close to the diplomatic talks said.

In May, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama speak in the Oval Office.   photo/jta/ron kampeas
In May, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama speak in the Oval Office. photo/jta/ron kampeas
Israel would have to accept its pre-1967 borders with land exchanges as the basis for a two-state solution, and the Palestinians would have to recognize Israel’s Jewish character if they were to reach a deal quickly, officials close to the talks said. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing diplomacy.

In an appearance with Netanyahu before their private meeting, Obama reiterated his call for direct peace talks as the only solution. By Obama’s side, Netanyahu condemned the Palestinian move, calling it a “shortcut” that “will not succeed.”

Said Netanyahu: “I think the Palestinians want to achieve a state in the international community, but they’re not prepared yet to give peace to Israel in return.”

Netanyahu also praised Obama’s stance on Israel, an endorsement that could help the U.S. president fend off criticism from Republicans.

“I think that standing your ground, taking this position of principle — which is also I think the right position to achieve peace — I think this is a badge of honor. And I want to thank you for wearing that badge of honor,” Netanyahu said.

The Israeli-Palestinian portion of Obama’s speech accounted for 635 words out of his total of 4,500, and there was little response from the audience throughout his speech.

Afterward, Jewish leaders and various pundits weighed in. The American Jewish Committee, AIPAC, the Anti-Defamation League and B’nai B’rith International all praised Obama’s speech.

“If the Palestinians are truly serious about a viable two-state deal, they should stop the counterproductive brinksmanship at the U.N. and return to the negotiating table now,” said David Harris, the AJC director.

Advocates of greater pressure on Netanyahu to make concessions to the Palestinians said Obama’s speech reeked of electioneering at a time when the Obama campaign is trying to reach out to the Jewish community to staunch the loss of Jewish support.

“Obama to UN. Israelis and Jews suffer. Palestinians, not so much. Full court pander 2 lobby,” tweeted M.J. Rosenberg, a columnist with the liberal Media Matters website.

Others detected a note of despair from a president who has tried from his first day in office to restart talks.

“Regrettably, the president’s words offered very little in the way of hope to Israelis and Palestinians,” Americans for Peace Now said on its website. “The United States cannot maintain credibility as the standard-bearer of rights and freedoms while the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is left to fester.”

In his own speech to the General Assembly, French President Nicolas Sarkozy backed a different solution: having the Palestinians seek a lesser form of recognition at the U.N., while joining new peace talks with Israel. That game plan would head off a Security Council vote and veto that he said would risk “engendering a cycle of violence in the Middle East.”

The French president called for Israelis and Palestinians to return to talks in one month with no preconditions — requiring an enormous leap of faith from both sides — with six months to work out the issues of borders and security that have divided them for decades. He called for a peace accord within a year.

The proposal outlined by Sarkozy received a warmer welcome from the Palestinians than Obama’s comments, which elicited stern looks from the Palestinian delegation. Still, Palestinian senior aide Saeb Erekat said the pursuit of full U.N. membership would not be slowed: “We will not allow any political maneuvering on this issue,” he said

In the 15-member Security Council, approval of a resolution requires nine “yes” votes and no veto by a permanent member — the U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France. If the resolution gets fewer than nine votes, it would be defeated without the U.S. having to use its veto.

While the Palestinians’ full membership bid would meet with a certain U.S. veto in the Security Council, assuming there were enough votes to have it approved, they still would have succeeded in bringing the issue back to the forefront of the world’s political discussions after years of failed negotiations, bickering and sporadic outbreaks of violence.


Ron Kampeas of JTA and additional Associated Press reporters contributed to this report.


Comments

Posted by RichardSchwartz
09/22/2011  at  07:09 PM
Obama is a friend to Israel

Conservatives like Rick Perry and Mitt Romney are distorting President Obama’s record on israel in order to gain politically. But as this article indicates, Obama is doing everything possible to avoid a UN recognition of a Palestinian state. In addition,Prime Minister Netanyahu and other Israelis have lavishly praised Obama for his invaluable help in freeing six Israelis recently trapped in the Israeli embassy in Cairo; Netanyahu and Israeli security experts have stated several times that current security cooperation between Israel and the US is unprecedented;  Along with many military, security, and diplomatic experts, Obama believes that, although it will be difficult to obtain, a comprehensive, sustainable settlement of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is essential in order for Israel to avoid further conflict, effectively respond to her economic, environmental, and other domestic problems, and remain a Jewish and a democratic state. Certainly Obama, like every previous president, has made mistakes in his statements about Israel, but I think it he is far from being an enemy of Israel.

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Posted by Janice
09/22/2011  at  09:03 PM
Obama's speech

President Obama’s speech could have been written by either Netanyahu or Avigdor Leiberman. In fact both men gave Obama their blessings after the speech.

No where in the speech was there any mention of the suffering of the Palesitnians who have lived under a brutal occupation since 1967. In fact the word “occupation” did not escape Obama’s lips. While speaking of the deaths of Israelis,  Obama neglected to also mention the fact that the number of Palestinians killed by Israel far exceeds the number of dead Israelis. All the deaths are tragic but to mention one group and forget the other group is nothing but pandering to Israel and to the Israeli Lobby.
President Obama, as every other world leader, knows that each and every Israeli settlement is illegal but he said not a word about the settlements which, along with the Jewish-only by pass roads, have eaten up much of the area that the Palestinians would need for a viable, contiguous state. But his lips were sealed about the settlements.
I am certain that Obama knows full well that the only “state” that would be acceptable to Israel would be a series of enclaves similar to the bantustans of apartheid South Africa.

Obama’s speech certainly appeased Israel and the Lobby but it did nothing to bring an end to the conflict.

He called for negotiations but at no time called on Israek to end its settlement building or to forego the preconditions that Netanyahu has demanded for any talks.

II am sure that Obama knows that Netanuahu would be happy to “negotiate.” They can talk, talk, talk while Israel grabs, grabs, grabs.

This is no prescription for peace. .

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Posted by Jack Kessler
09/23/2011  at  12:52 PM
Our other friend at the UN

Throughout its history, Israel has had the advantage of the ineptness and over-reaching of the Palestinian leadership.  It is possible that this time is no different.  If one must have enemies, hope for stupid ones.

There are 5 permanent Security Council members which have vetoes.  There are also 10 rotating members who have votes but not vetoes.  This year those are:
Bosnia and Herzegovina Germany
Portugal
Brazil
India
South Africa
Colombia
Lebanon  
Gabon
Nigeria

Of these 10, plus the 5 permanent members (US, UK, Russia, China, France) the Palestinians must get 9 votes to win.  Which means we need only 7 votes for them to lose.

The US and France have already announced they will vote ‘no’.  Germany, Britain and Portugal are also likely to vote ‘no’.
That makes 5 ‘noes’. 

‘Noes’ or even abstentions by any 2 of the remaining 10 will defeat the measure in the Security Council.  The US would not even have to use its veto.

One would have to be privy to some high-level international politicking, persuading, bribing, threatening, chicanery, corrupt deal-making, and even violence to know all of what is going on.

My guess, and I do mean guess, is that the US has a reasonable chance of getting 7 noes or abstentions if the measure is brought to a vote in the Security Council. 

It is generally agreed that the Palestinians would be certain to win if they bring the question to the General Assembly instead.

So what should you do if you are Mahmoud Abbas - try the Security Council where the prize is bigger, but the chances of losing are substantial?  Or go to the General Assembly for a smaller but certain prize? 

A defeat in the Security Council would make a General Assembly vote meaningless. 

Mahmoud Abbas has already announced that he will go to the Security Council.  Israel is once again lucky in having enemies who are either stupid or have poor judgment - which is just as good as stupid.

Stay tuned.  This won’t over until the fat lady sings.

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Posted by Dan Spitzer
09/23/2011  at  04:22 PM
Again, Do Not Respond to Janice

Those who have been reading J on line for some time know that Janice loathes Israel and is simply seeking attention. Please do not give it to her…

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Posted by Dan Spitzer
09/23/2011  at  04:31 PM
Guess Who Currently Presides over the UN Security Council?

Lebanon, the client state of Iran whose political order is overseen by Hezbollah, a political organization dubbed as “terrorist” by both the US and the EU.

Past members of the Security Council have been Quadaffi’s Libya, Assad’s Syria, the Saudis and all sorts of tyrannical governments. Of course, Israel has never been permitted to take a seat on the Security Council.

Does anyone wonder why intelligent observers see the UN as a farce?

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Posted by Janice
09/23/2011  at  07:02 PM
To Jack Kessler

You mentioned bribery, threatening etc. The Palestinians are in no positiion to do any of this so my guess would have to be that it is the US government, Israel’s client state, that is doing this.

If so, it won’t be the first time that the US has used threats and bribery, not only in the case of Israel but in other parts of the world where the US wants to its hegemony.

I would like someone on the comment board to answer the following questions if they can. I would like this to be done without insults from Dan Spitzer.

The Palestinians have been living under occupation since 1967, the longest occupation in modern day history. This occupation has not brought peace to Israel. In fact it is just the opposite.

It seems quite clear that the current Israeli government has no desire to get out of the West Bank. Indeed, the headline in an article in today’s Haaretz read
“Bill Clinton: Netanyahu isn’t interested in Mideast peace deal.”

Given this situation and given the fact that the Palestinians will not willingly leave, what should be done?

Should Israel continue with the settlements and bring more Jews into the West Bank angering not only the Palestinians but much of the world.?

Should Israel, as suggested by far right member of Congress Joe Walsh, annex the West Bank thereby bringing into Israel over 2 million Palestiians?

n that case the Palestinians would correctly demand one person, one vote. And were that vote not granted the world would have the right to call Israel an apartheid state.

This situation cannot go on forever without Israel paying a high price down the road.

What would be your decision were you in Netanyahu’s place?

I believe that Israel should remain a state, a state for all of its people on the 78% of the original Palestine. The Palestinians long ago agreed to settle for 22% but Israel seems unwilling to give even that to the Palestinians They deserve a state in their homeland just as much as do the Jews.

Finally it must be remembered that the Palestinians were not responnsible for either the European anti-Semitism that brought my great-grandparents to the US or for the Holocaust. But they have paid a high price for crimes they did not commit and they are still paying that price.

It is time to end this conflict with justice for both peoples.

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Posted by Dan Spitzer
09/23/2011  at  10:35 PM
Jack, Please Don't Respond to Janice

We all know how much Janice loathes Israeli Jews and she shouldn’t be given the satisfaction of a rejoinder…

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Posted by Janice
09/24/2011  at  12:32 AM
Dan you are way off base as usual

There are any number of Israeli Jews who I admire.  There are some wonderful Jews in Israel and for you to say that I loathe Israeli Jews is quite disgusting to say the least.

I admire the great and brave Uri Avnery. Maybe you should read some of his writings but then I think that you would be afraid to do so.

I admire the woman of Machsom Watch and the women of Women in Black who brave the insults and spittle of right wing Jews. I admire the Rabbis for Human Rights. I admire the people of Gush Shalom and B’Tselem. I admire the courageous reservists who have refused to serve beyond the Green Line. I admire the young people who refuse to go into the IDF becasue they do not want to serve as oppressors. They are sent to jail for their bravery. My list could go on and on.

Those I do not admire are those in the government like the lying Netanyahu and the racist bouncer Lieberman.  I do not admire the bulk of the settlers.

I do not judge people by their race or religion. I judge them by their actions. 

Too bad you are afraid to answer my questions. Why are you afraid?

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