At the UN, Syria Is the New Iran, and Not a Word on the Palestinians

On the first day of the UN General Assembly, Iran failed to draw international leaders' attention and the issue of a Palestinian state was barely mentioned.

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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 Iranian President Hassan Rohani addressing the United Nations General Assembly on September 28, 2015 in New York City.
Iranian President Hassan Rohani addressing the United Nations General Assembly on September 28, 2015 in New York City. Credit: AFP
ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

UNITED NATIONS, New York – The speech by Iranian President Hassan Rohani to the UN General Assembly has been considered the best show in town in recent years. Iranian nukes were one of the most burning issues on the international agenda, and many wanted to hear what former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and for the past two years Rohani had to say. However, the Iranian nuclear deal with the world powers this summer lowered interest in the issue in one fell swoop.

When Rohani approached the UN podium on Monday, the hall was half empty. He was the sixth speaker of the day. Diplomats sitting in the hall did not look enrapt by Rohani's speech, which did not yield juicy headlines. Even the media circus to which the Iranian delegation had grown accustomed was much more subdued.

Neither did the Iranian issue draw special attention in the speeches of international leaders at the UN. Obama dedicated two paragraphs to the matter. Putin ignored it completely. The presidents of Brazil and China sufficed with general welcomes. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will probably be the only one to dedicate his speech to the nuclear deal with Iran.

Netanyahu has not been weaned from his old ways, and continued his annual tradition of sending his advisers to debrief journalists that the prime minister's speech would be "powerful." However, in the present international atmosphere, it seems that however many decibels Netanyahu reaches in his speech, most of the international community is done with the Iranian nuclear issue. Rather, Syria is the new Iran for most leaders speaking Monday at the UN.

The wave of Syrian refugees flooding Europe, the deployment of Russian forces in Latakia and the continuing fear of ISIS strengthening turned the murmurs over a deal among the world powers over the future of Syria into the UNGA's main issue this year. If Iran's name is mentioned in this context, it involves the desire of the United States, Russia and other countries to cooperate with the regime in Tehran to fight ISIS and end the Syrian civil war.

Another man sitting in the General Assembly hall Monday who did not believe his ears was Mahmoud Abbas. The Palestinian president, who like Netanyahu isn't averse to building disproportionate expectations ahead of his speeches, heard how the issue about which he came to speak – establishing a Palestinian state – was pushed into a corner.

President Barack Obama didn't say a word about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, not even out of a sense of obligation. Jordan's King Abdullah II didn't mention the word Palestine and spoke about Jerusalem as if it were strictly a Jordanian issue. At least Abbas had Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who called on the establishment of a Palestinian state and a halt to building Israeli settlements.

One can assume Netanyahu also paid attention to the issue that disappeared from the speeches of world leaders. It seems he can feel satisfaction that he succeeded in pushing the issue of a Palestinian state off the global agenda. However, Palestinian frustration conceals a danger to Israel. Abbas, who has pulled back from his threat to announce the dismantling of the Palestinian Authority, is liable to radicalize anew his speech on Wednesday to draw the least bit of international attention. After his speech the Palestinian president will be able to take comfort in a festive ceremony to hoist the Palestinian flag at UN headquarters.

Even if the Palestinian issue disappeared from the speeches of leaders it is expected to return one way or the other in the coming months. A meeting of Quartet foreign ministers to be held Wednesday in New York will launch a process EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and UN envoy Nikolai Mladenov are pushing to move the peace process forward. The issue is also not dead for President Obama, despite his speech. The American president is interested in leaving after him some legacy regarding the Palestinian issue. He just hasn't decided yet how to do it.

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