Obama: Israelis, Palestinians ‘Must Reach Agreement on the Issues that Divide Them’
Updated at 8:30 p.m. ET:
NEW YORK CITY | In an address to the U.N. General Assembly in New York Wednesday, President Obama said that the Palestinian Authority’s bid for statehood would circumvent the Israel-Palestinian peace process and urged the resumption of direct negotiations.
“The Palestinian people deserve a state of their own, but … 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,” he said.
The Obama administration has pledged to veto any Palestinian statehood bid. President Obama reiterated his wider support for a Palestinian state, but reassured Israelis of the United States’ longstanding support.
“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,” he said.
“Palestinians deserve to know the territorial basis of their state. I know that many are frustrated by the lack of progress. I assure you, so am I. but the question is not the goal that we seek, the question is how do we reach that goal. And I am convinced that there is no shortcut to the end of a conflict that has endured for decades,” the president said.
Nonetheless, “America’s commitment to Israel’s security is unshakable, our friendship with Israel is deep and enduring. … Israel is surrounded by neighbors that have waged repeated wars against them. Israel’s citizens have been killed by rockets fired on their houses and bombs on their buses,” he added.
The president also alluded to the concept that even a successful process would not bring resolution to the stalled negotiations: “Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the U.N. If it were that easy, it would have been accomplished by now.”
After his speech, Mr. Obama met one-on-one with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said he agreed with the president’s stance resisting the statehood bid and said that any attempts to shortcut the Mideast peace process would not succeed.
“I want to thank you, Mr. President, for standing with Israel and supporting peace through direct negotiations,” Netanyahu said. “We both agree that Palestinians and Israelis should sit down and negotiate an agreement of mutual recognition and security. I think this is the only way to get a stable and durable peace.
“You’ve also made it clear that the Palestinians deserve a state, but it’s a state that has to make that peace with Israel. Therefore, their attempt to shortcut this process and not negotiate a peace and that attempt to get state membership in the United Nations will not succeed.”
Mr. Obama and Abbas also talked in a closed-door meeting Wednesday evening.
Ray Suarez reported on Wednesday’s NewsHour that Nabil Shaath, the deputy prime minister and minister of information, said the Palestinians are interested in listening to alternate proposals, but that they were going to “exhaust their efforts to win full membership in the United Nations” before turning to other options.
On other topics in his speech, President Obama praised Libyan rebels for their “relentless bravery” in their bid to push Moammar Gadhafi out of Tripoli and effectively out of power, with National Transitional Council leader Mustafa Abdul Jalil in attendance representing Libya.
One day after the assassination of former Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani shook confidence in peace talks with the Taliban, President Obama also praised “an increasingly capable Afghan government” and U.S. plans to transition out of the country by 2014. The United States also is poised to remove its troops from Iraq by the end of this year.
In addition, the president praised the popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt earlier this year and the protests in Syria — ongoing despite a violent crackdown — but was more qualified when speaking of U.S. ally Yemen, where demonstrations have destabilized the country and where the United States hopes to see a peaceful resolution.
President Obama will deliver a speech Wednesday morning at the U.N. General Assembly as diplomatic efforts to try to dissuade the Palestinian Authority from submitting a bid for U.N. membership continue.
Directly after his address, Mr. Obama plans to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to the White House.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to submit a formal request for U.N. membership after his own speech at the U.N. General Assembly on Friday. The United States and other countries oppose the move, saying statehood should be part of the peace process with Israel.
U.S. and other officials reportedly are urging the Palestinian leader to hold off pressing for full statehood, or at least not a vote in the U.N. Security Council, where the United States has promised a veto. The U.N. General Assembly largely supports the bid.
Abbas could also submit the letter but not seek action for a year, or merely seek upgraded status for Palestinians.
Earlier in the week, U.S. officials were trying to downplay the significance of the request.
Mark Kornblau, spokesman for the United States Mission to the U.N., told reporters on Monday that the United States is committed to a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinian territories, and action on the Palestinian bid in New York won’t resolve the issue.
“Nothing that happens here is going to change the reality on the ground” or the issues standing in the way of the Mideast peace process, namely border security, rights of citizens and control of Jerusalem, he said.
Action on the bid is not expected until next week or later.
President Obama addressing the U.N. General Assembly in New York City. Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images.