Well, I still cannot tell you exactly what’s going to happen tomorrow, after Netanyahu and Abbas address the UN. But the focus has sharpened considerably. And I can certainly look at what’s happened so far.
Yesterday, President Obama did two things of significance with regard to this whole drama.
First, he met with Abbas, and told him that he indeed will veto the PA bid in the Security Council, if it comes to that.
I cannot tell you what Abbas said privately to Obama. But publicly the stance of the PA was defiant. They will go on, its representatives declared, and submit the request for full membership for a Palestinian state to the Security Council.
Nabil Sha’ath, however, indicated that tomorrow Abbas would submit his letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon but that it might then be held before it is passed on to the Security Council.
And so here we have one possibility for what may transpire tomorrow. It’s a solid possibility — a stalling tactic. Another stalling tactic would involve giving the request to the Security Council, which would decide it needed to deliberate — maybe for months, maybe for a year.
The idea, quite obviously, is to buy time, in the hope that the situation will somehow change. Hope does spring eternal, does it not?
It seems to be the case, as I write, that a sufficient number of nations who are on the SC have come on board with regard to the effort to block the Palestinian bid via abstentions so that Obama may not have to give that order to veto. Remember that nine nations must vote for it, or it does not pass.
I will add here that apparently behind-the-scenes work — effective lobbying — by Israel is as responsible for this achievement as anything the US has done.
In his address to the UN yesterday, French President Nicholas Sarkozy (whom I believe will abstain) put forth a most unacceptable proposition:
One month to resume negotiations, six months to reach an agreement on borders and security, and one year to reach a definitive agreement. In the interim the Palestinians would have observer state status.
This is a dangerous proposal without viability. Aside from anything else, timetables like this are disastrous. Not to mention that the PA would parlay observer state status into a tool for legal leveraging against Israel.
Of course, part of what Sarkozy is advancing is an opportunity for France to get involved: “Who still believes that the peace process can succeed without Europe?”
I, for one. Europe is finished, with regard to moral authority or competent leadership. The nations of Europe are on the edge of economic and political bankruptcy.
Explained Sarkozy, “A democratic, viable and peaceful Palestinian state would, for Israel, be its best guarantee of its security.”
Does he/can he possibly believe that a Palestinian state would be as he describes? A dangerous proposal, but also a dangerous man.
In the PA areas of Judea and Samaria, people gathered yesterday in preparation for celebration of the founding of a state. A bit prematurely, I would say. And in smaller numbers than had been anticipated.
The crowd grew angry when they learned of Obama’s intention to veto as necessary. There was condemnation of the US voiced from within the crowds, burning of US flags, and throwing of stones. Today this mood has heightened, as Obama is being called a hypocrite, and photos of him are being torched in Ramallah.
With Abbas scheduled to address the UN tomorrow, and then submit his letter, Israeli security forces — IDF, Border Police, etc. — are gearing up for the possibility of violence. A number of non-lethal techniques for dispersing crowds are in place. In due course I may write further about this.
The second thing Obama did yesterday was address the UN General Assembly.
You can find his full remarks here:
He had come, he told those gathered, to speak of peace:
“…today, we stand at a crossroads of history with the chance to move decisively in the direction of peace. To do so, we must return to the wisdom of those who created this institution. The United Nations’ Founding Charter calls upon us, ‘to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security.’ And Article 1 of this General Assembly’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights reminds us that, ‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and in rights.’ Those bedrock beliefs — in the responsibility of states, and the rights of men and women — must be our guide.
How sincere can it be, to cite the UN — that most corrupt of institutions — with regard to human dignity? This is unserious sucking-up.
But the president continued…
“And in that effort, we have reason to hope. This year has been a time of extraordinary transformation…”
Hope? Extraordinary transformation? To make his point he recounted situations in a variety of hotspots in the Middle East and Arab world. Altogether too starry-eyed an account, plastered with political platitudes. He has ignored the hard frost that has settled over the “Arab Spring.” For example:
“One year ago, Egypt had known one President for nearly 30 years. But for 18 days, the eyes of the world were glued to Tahrir Square, where Egyptians from all walks of life — men and women, young and old, Muslim and Christian — demanded their universal rights. We saw in those protesters the moral force of non-violence that has lit the world from Delhi to Warsaw, from Selma to South Africa — and we knew that change had come to Egypt and to the Arab world.”
But it was from Tahrir Square that violent protesters had come just days ago to threaten the ambassador of Israel! He had placed a phone call to Cairo in this regard. And it is in Egypt that we may yet see the rise of Islamists to power.
And then, to the heart of the matter:
“…for many in this hall, there’s one issue that stands as a test for these principles and a test for American foreign policy, and that is the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
“One year ago, I stood at this podium and I called for an independent Palestine. I believed then, and I believe now, that the Palestinian people deserve a state of their own. But what I also said is that a genuine peace can only be realized between the Israelis and the Palestinians themselves. One year later, despite extensive efforts by America and others, the parties have not bridged their differences…
“…I know that many are frustrated by the lack of progress. I assure you, so am I. But the question isn’t the goal that we seek — the question is how do we reach that goal. And I am convinced that there is no short cut to the end of a conflict that has endured for decades. Peace is hard work. Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the United Nations — if it were that easy, it would have been accomplished by now. 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: on borders and on security, on refugees and Jerusalem.
“…We seek a future where Palestinians live in a sovereign state of their own, with no limit to what they can achieve. There’s no question that the Palestinians have seen that vision delayed for too long. It is precisely because we believe so strongly in the aspirations of the Palestinian people that America has invested so much time and so much effort in the building of a Palestinian state, and the negotiations that can deliver a Palestinian state.
“But understand this as well: America’s commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable. Our friendship with Israel is deep and enduring. And so we believe that any lasting peace must acknowledge the very real security concerns that Israel faces every single day.
“Let us be honest with ourselves: 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. Israel, a small country of less than eight million people, look 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 and persecution, and fresh memories of knowing that six million people were killed simply because of who they are. Those are facts. They cannot be denied.
“The Jewish people have forged a successful state in their historic homeland. 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 two-state solution with a secure Israel next to an independent Palestine.
“That is the truth — each side has legitimate aspirations — and that’s part of what makes peace so hard. And the deadlock will only be broken when each side learns to stand in the other’s shoes; each side can see the world through the other’s eyes. That’s what we should be encouraging…”
Well, there is much to challenge, but undoubtedly it could have been worse. No more talk of settlements as the cause of the stalemate. There’s been a shift.
I would interpret that shift as, in significant measure, a self-serving political one. An election is coming down the road. Not only does Obama need American Jewish support (which is diminishing) and American Jewish dollars (which diminish along with the support), he is facing staunchly pro-Israel Republican opponents. No, clearly his anti-Israel stance didn’t play well and something else was called for.
But let me state clearly that his anti-Israel stance has been too consistent, and too blatant, for me to be convinced for a moment that Obama is truly a friend of Israel.
I’ll take what I can get here, happily, but warily. Yet I shudder to think that pro-Obama Democrats might sell people on the notion that Obama deserves their vote if they care about Israel. And after the election?
This speech essentially laid the ground for his already-declared readiness to veto a PA move to establish a state unilaterally. He is promoting the need for face-to-face negotiations. That is his political position. NOT for Israel’s sake, but because this is how he has opted to play it. He knows that the unilateral path spells disaster. OK, then.
I hold no brief for negotiations. Don’t believe they can bring us to anything remotely resembling peace (although some very credible Israelis argue that talking is good, and can bring cooperation in some peripheral spheres).
But good indeed that there should not be a Palestinian state, acknowledged by the international community, sitting as a full member of the UN.
That Netanyahu and his team should see this state of affairs as good is entirely understandable. That he should be relieved that there was no mention of settlements as the cause of the stalemate, and pleased that there was acknowledgement of Israel’s security needs, is to be expected. That he should feel a measure of delight, some sense of victory, that Abbas was foiled at some level is appropriate.
But Netanyahu’s response moved beyond all of this in an expression of jubilation and words of enormous and effusive appreciation to Obama. I could have done with something more low key, myself.
What does it say, that our prime minister believes he needs to so very energetically express appreciation to Obama for doing only what he should be doing anyway? This is a tip-off to the fact that Netanyahu, no matter his words, trusts Obama as a friend of Israel no more than I.
Let us look then, at some other comments regarding the Obama speech.
Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, in a press release, indicated disappointment in the talk:
“…Today’s address was an opportunity for the President to clearly support our ally Israel and stop the PLO’s scheme in its tracks, but it fell short.
“The President drew moral equivalence between our ally Israel and the Palestinians and unfairly blamed both for the lack of peace.”
And then there was a Townhall column by Kate Hicks, “Obama and the Myth of Moral Equivalency.”
“In a grandiose display of the very ignorance he therein denounced, President Obama gave an address to the United Nations General Assembly this morning. I don’t even know where to begin when deconstructing his remarks, which total nine single spaced typed pages and skip to and fro among an impressive collection of liberal talking points. My favorite moment came when he announced, ‘We have banned those who abuse human rights from traveling to our country,’ with Mahmoud Ahmedinejad in the room. Indeed, close examination of his platitudes reveals the president’s inconsistent message and his tenuous grip on reality.
“‘…the deadlock will only be broken when each side learns to stand in each other’s shoes.’
“Sure, Mr. President. Why don’t we ask a terrorist organization to take a walk in the shoes of the people they have sworn to kill. Hey, since you’re so fond of quoting charters, how about we quote that of Hamas, the governing power in Palestine…This is why they cannot achieve that ‘lasting peace’ you mentioned four or five times today—because Hamas doesn’t want it. Unless peace involves the eradication of the Jewish people. Then they’re willing to give it a try.
“He made constant reference to the necessity for compromise, and the legitimacy of both sides’ aspirations (one would hope the elimination of the Jews does not fall into this category). But Obama wastes his words on pipedreams of shared perspectives…
“…He didn’t draw a hard line anywhere in his speech. He didn’t say anything that the UN would find repugnant or controversial. He betrayed the US’s interests and allies with a cotton candy speech designed to fill quote books of clichés (‘Peace is hard?’ Right.), and win the international popularity contest.
“…He sees the world through Rockwellian glasses, in which ‘freedom from want’ is a legitimate human right, and we don’t ever have to put our foot down and tell Palestine that it cannot negotiate for itself someone else’s land.
“Sure, Mr. President. Peace is hard. But moral relativism comes way too easily to you.”
This is where I will end today’s posting, which would, if I wrote about all that is happening, go on indefinitely. Ultimately I hope to explore issues of the triangulation of Congress/Netanyahu/Obama, and of questions of withholding of funds to the PA (something Ros-Lehtinen is concerned with). I am not there yet.
Today is Durban III at the UN. There is something to say about that. And, more importantly, about the counter-conference being held across the street from the UN: “The Perils of Global Intolerance: The United Nations and Durban III.” Sponsored by Touro College and The Hudson Institute, organized by Eye on the UN’s Anne Bayefsky, who is associated with these institutions.
Via Internet I have been listening to an array of speakers who are magnificent: Elie Wiesel, Dore Gold, Dan Diker, Ron Lauder, John Bolton, Ruth Wisse, Alan Dershowitz, Wafa Sultan, Khaled Abu Toameh, Shelby Steele, and more. They are exploring anti-Semitism, UN corruption, rights of Israel, and more.
As time allows tomorrow I will try to review some of these talks. My hope is that videos of the talks will be put up on the Internet. This program represents a stunning collection of brilliant minds, thinking morally and incisively.
This gathering is cause for hope.
I do not anticipate that the talks by Netanyahu and Abbas tomorrow at the UN will take place early enough in the day in NY for me to write about them before Shabbat begins here in Jerusalem. I am aiming for — but will not promise — a post on this at the end of Shabbat.
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.