Obama: No Shortcut to Israel-Palestinian Peace

Photo Courtesy of UN Photo/Mark Garten

UNITED NATIONS—With an anticipated Palestinian request for full United Nations membership in the background, US President Barack Obama said on Wednesday a UN resolution cannot create Israel-Palestinian peace. Obama said in his speech to the UN General Assembly that he is also frustrated by the lack of progress in the process, but argued that peace can only be achieved through a negotiated settlement between the sides.

“I am convinced that there is no shortcut to the end of a conflict that has endured for decades,” said Obama. “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.”

The American leader then stated that it is the parties themselves, “not us,” who must reach a deal on the matters of disagreement. “Ultimately peace depends upon compromise among people who must live together long after our speeches are over, long after our votes have been tallied… that is and will be the path to a Palestinian state—negotiations between the parties,” said Obama, comparing the situation to Northern Ireland and Sudan.

The US—one of five nations in the UN Security Council with veto powers—has said they will veto a Palestinian UN membership bid in the Council. With the Palestinians saying they will go to the Security Council anyway, the US faces a potential diplomatic showdown over the matter.

Obama noted that he did express the hope one year ago that the Palestinians would achieve independence, but noted he also said at the time that “a genuine peace can only be realized between Israelis and the Palestinians themselves.”

Back in May, Obama laid out his plans for Israel-Palestinian peace talks, which he reiterated in Wednesday’s UN speech. He said at the UN that Israel needed to have assurances of security in a peace deal, while Palestinians should know “the territorial basis of their state.”

Territory and security are core issues to be negotiated between the sides, so upfront declaration of principles for them could harm the sides’ negotiating stances. Specific commitments on borders would remove a key negotiating point for Israel. Unlike in May, Obama avoided on Wednesday mention of the 1967 lines, which would grant the Palestinians the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Obama reiterated America’s “unshakeable” commitment to Israel’s security and the “deep and enduring” US friendship with Israel. He also called upon others to finally recognize Israel.

“The Jewish people have forged a successful state in their historic homeland. Israel deserves recognition. It deserves normal relations with its neighbors,” said Obama. “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.”

While the US has played a key role in Israel-Palestinian peace talks for decades, a deal has yet to be reached. Palestinians have reportedly turned down at least two Israeli proposals—one from former Prime Minister Ehud Barak in 2000 and another from former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Some in Israel have argued there are alternatives to the two-state solution that would still grant Palestinians political rights while enabling Israel to maintain control of the territory and keep security.

In Wednesday’s speech, Obama called upon the UN to focus on getting the sides back to peace talks. “The measure of our actions must always be whether they advance the right of Israeli and Palestinian children to live lives of peace and security and dignity and opportunity,” said Obama.

“And we will only succeed in that effort if we can encourage the parties to sit down, to listen to each other, and to understand each other’s hopes and each other’s fears. That is the project to which America is committed. There are no shortcuts. And that is what the United Nations should be focused on in the weeks and months to come.”

(By Joshua Spurlock, www.themideastupdate.com, September 21, 2011)