At UN, Obama Talks Conflict and Peace in the Middle East, Reaffirms 2-state Commitment

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The UN Security Council, May 22, 2014. Credit: AP

The status quo in the West Bank and Gaza is "not sustainable," U.S. President Barack Obama on Wednesday told the United Nations General Assembly, "not when rockets are fired at innocent Israelis" and not when "the lives of so many Palestinian children are taken from us in Gaza."

"The violence engulfing the region today has made too many Israelis ready to abandon the hard work of peace," Obama said, then departing from his prepared remarks and adding that "this is worthy of reflection within Israel."

The president made the remarks as part of a broader speech in which he asserted that the UN members must "reaffirm our collective responsibility to confront global problems or be swamped by more and more outbreaks of instability."

He cited a "pervasive unease in the world," and said no nation is insulated from "global forces." Individual problems requiring global attention include the Ebola virus outbreak and "Russian aggression in Europe." And the president said the "brutality of terrorists in Syria and Iraq forces us to look into the heart of darkness."

Russia's military support of the rebels in Ukraine creates "a vision of the world in which might makes right – a world in which one nation’s borders can be redrawn by another," the president said. He said the U.S. "will impose a cost on Russia for aggression" and sought support from other nations for that positon.

Regarding Iran, Obama said the U.S. "is pursuing a diplomatic resolution to the Iranian nuclear issue, as part of our commitment to stop the spread of nuclear weapons." He called on Iran to take "this historic opportunity. We can reach a solution that meets your energy needs while assuring the world that your program is peaceful. "

He said the U.S. is deploying doctors and soldiers to combat Ebola; the country is committed to "a development agenda that eradicates extreme poverty by 2030," adding that it is sharply reducing carbon emissions to fight climate change. But he called for collective action in the world on all these matters.

He said that the progress the world can make in this century is threatened by "the cancer of violent extremism that has ravaged so many parts of the Muslim world."

The world faces "a more lethal and ideological brand of terrorists who have perverted one of the world’s great religions," Obama said.

"With access to technology that allows small groups to do great harm, they have embraced a nightmarish vision that would divide the world into adherents and infidels – killing as many innocent civilians as possible; and employing the most brutal methods to intimidate people within their communities."

At the same time, "we reject any suggestion of a clash of civilizations. … [H]umanity’s future depends on us uniting against those who would divide us along fault lines of tribe or sect; race or religion."

And he again called for collective action "to address the danger posed by religiously motivated fanatics, and the trends that fuel their recruitment."

America's military will aim to "roll back" Islamic State, Obama said. He called on "the world – especially Muslim communities – to explicitly, forcefully and consistently reject the ideology of Al-Qaida and ISIL."

"The situation in Iraq, Syria and Libya should cure anyone of the illusion that [the Israeli-Palestinian] conflict is the main source of problems in the region," the president said.

He called on political, civic and religious leaders to ”reject sectarian strife" as "a fight that no one is winning."

He addressed "young people across the Muslim world. You come from a great tradition that stands for education, not ignorance; innovation, not destruction; the dignity of life, not murder. Those who call you away from this path are betraying this tradition, not defending it."

And he said that so long "as I am President, we will stand up for the principle that Israelis, Palestinians, the region, and the world will be more just with two states living side by side, in peace and security."