The key statement in President Barack Obama's address to the UN General Assembly was the distinction that peace between Israel and the Palestinians will not be attained by means of speeches and UN resolutions. Indeed, speeches like those presidential candidate Obama gave on Wednesday will not advance peace one iota. A resolution passed by the General Assembly to upgrade the status of the Palestinians a bit - after a blocking majority put together by Obama or an American veto thwarts them in the Security Council - is also not likely to improve the situation in the occupied territories.
Worse yet, Obama's passivity could pave the way to a civil uprising against Israel and its American patron, and/or lead to the loss of the Palestinian partner to the two-state solution.
Obama's graceless courting of the Israeli government is unlikely to attract Jewish votes or financing; those who believe in the perpetuation of the conflict will prefer a Republican candidate who recycles the hollow vow to bring the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. The photographer Spencer Tunik should have invited Obama to take part in his photograph in the lowest place on earth, since Obama's speech presented the diplomacy of the (still ) strongest power in the world in all its nakedness.
To realize the extent to which the lame-duck candidate has regressed from the positions of the new and promising President Obama, the speech to the United Nations in September 2011 should be compared to one he gave in Cairo in 2009. At that time he pledged to "personally pursue this outcome with all the patience that the task requires," and said "... it is time for all of us to live up to our responsibilities." Yesterday he sent the occupied and the occupier, the strong and the weak, to solve the core issues on their own.
In Cairo he recalled, along with Jewish suffering in the Holocaust, the "daily humiliations ... that come with the occupation." And he added: "Let there be no doubt: The situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable." He even compared the struggle of the Palestinians for freedom to the struggle of black people in the United States for equal rights. On Wednesday, Obama paid pursed lip service to the legitimate aspirations and forgot to mention the occupation.
In June 2009, Obama spoke of "the obligations that the parties have agreed to under the road map." He meant, among other things, and perhaps mainly, Israel's obligation to completely stop construction in the settlements and dismantle the outposts built after March 2001. To remove all doubt, he stated resolutely: "It is time for these settlements to stop."
On Wednesday, not one word of criticism was heard about Israel creating unilateral physical facts on the ground. To the 2011-model Obama, only the Palestinians' approach to the United Nations is unilateral, objectionable and meriting the death penalty. Only the very best navigators of the endless maze of the "peace process" could find in yesterday's address an indirect mention of Obama's support for negotiations based on the 1967 borders and an exchange of territories - in a general reference to his speech last May.
Obama forgot to mention that in July he demanded that the Quartet release a statement of support for the annexation of the settlement blocs to Israel and recognition of Israel's Jewish character. Yesterday he was a bit more cautious and made do with the declaration that "Israel deserves recognition." To whom exactly was the statement directed? To North Korea? To Iran? How many countries among those whose leaders were listening to his remarks do not recognize Israel? True, none of them, including the United States, recognize the occupation, nor the annexation of East Jerusalem.
There is no doubt that Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman had many moments of pleasure on Wednesday. His great nemesis, the person who threatened to expel him from his home in the settlement of Nokdim in exchange for a diplomatic agreement with the Palestinians, and perhaps for a regional peace initiative as well, raised a white flag yesterday. In fact, how can one complain about a foreign leader who risks our existence for considerations that are foreign to us? Don't we have one like that?
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