More Iran Threat, Less Palestinians: What to Expect From Bennett’s UN Speech

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
New York
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Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett embarks on his plane as he sets to leave Israel overnight into Sunday.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett embarks on his plane as he sets to leave Israel overnight into Sunday. Credit: Avi Ohayon / GPO
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
New York

NEW YORK – Prime Minister Naftali Bennett will address the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Monday afternoon. In his first speech to the General Assembly as prime minister, he is expected to focus on the Iranian nuclear weapons program and the Islamic republic’s other hostile military activity in the Middle East.

Before boarding the plane on Saturday night, the premier characterized his address as "an opportunity to tell our story about Israel's place in the world and about the special spirit of Israelis and our contribution to the world."

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The prime minister also plans to be critical in his speech of what he sees as the unfairly hostile attitude toward Israel from the United Nations and other international organizations. He will highlight “the Israeli story” and the broadly based coalition government that he heads as representing a different face of the country.

He will also speak about Israel’s efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic and suggest that other countries adopt the approach that his government has taken. Bennet is expected to touch on the Palestinian issue only marginally in his address, instead highlighting the Abraham Accords, which established diplomatic relations with Arab countries in the region, including the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, and which was signed despite the lack of progress on the Palestinian front. He will present the accords, which were sealed last year when Bennett’s predecessor Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Joe Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, were in office, as having dramatic consequences for Israel and other countries in the region.

The time slot for Bennett’s UN speech is not a particularly favorable one. He is expected to speak at 9 A.M. in New York, or 4 P.M. Israel time, which is not a prime viewing hour in Israel and comes just prior to the onset of the Simhat Torah holiday. In addition, most of the world leaders attending this session of the General Assembly will have already left New York, meaning that the usual custom of one-on-one meetings on the sidelines of the General Assembly session won’t be as feasible.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

The meetings that he has scheduled during his visit are at a lower level and include a Sunday meeting with the foreign minister of Bahrain and the minister of state in the Foreign Ministry of the UAE. On Monday, following his General Assembly address, which he wrote himself, Bennett is scheduled to meet with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, with the U.S. ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, and for the first time as prime minister, with representatives of the U.S. Jewish community.

A senior member of Bennett’s entourage said the prime minister does not intend to respond to last week’s UN address by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who delivered a one-year ultimatum to Israel to withdraw to the 1967 borders. With regard to Iran, the official spoke of the importance of enlisting support from the international community. It is not clear, however, how Bennett will address the warming of contacts between Iran and the United States along with the other world powers as efforts continue to reinstate the international nuclear agreement from which the United States withdrew under President Trump.

Bennett's trip to the United States comes after the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a stand-alone bill providing $1 billion in emergency funding for Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system on Thursday, just days after progressive Democrats successfully managed to get it removed from a stopgap spending bill.

Before departing for New York, Bennett described Thursday's vote as a "sweeping victory," noting that "at the moment of truth, we saw the representatives of the American people overwhelmingly support Israel, 420 vs. 9." As for the progressive Democrats, he said "There is a small, anti-Israel group that makes a lot of noise, but these guys have failed."

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