U.S. President Barack Obama, in his annual address to the UN General Assembly, said Wednesday that “Palestinians deserve to know the territorial basis of their state”.
As if they don’t know. Or — as if someone else should tell them.
Since their 1988 Declaration of Independence, the Palestinian National Council agreed to form their state with the borders of June 4, 1967 — the eve of the war which saw Israel conquer the West Bank and the Gaza Strip [and the Golan Heights].
In 2008, as the U.S.-brokered Annapolis direct negotiations between Israel and Palestinians faltered, then-Secretary of State Condoleezzaa Rice said that defining the borders between them would help define which Israeli Jewish settlements in the West Bank [if any] would be “legal”.
Obama’s words today at the UN go even further…
“One year ago, I stood at this podium and called for an independent Palestine. I believed then – and I believe now – that the Palestinian people deserve a state of their own. But what I also said is that genuine peace can only be realized between Israelis and Palestinians themselves. One year later, despite extensive efforts by America and others, the parties have not bridged their differences. Faced with this stalemate, I put forward a new basis for negotiations in May. That basis is clear, and well known to all of us here. Israelis must know that any agreement provides assurances for their security. Palestinians deserve to know the territorial basis of their state.
Later, Obama met Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu, who was very pleased with the Obama statement, and after that, at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, with a weary and disillusioned Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, who had put his head on the desk in front of him during part of the Obama speech.
Abbas’ spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh said later that both men had reiterated their positions.
Haaretz reported later that “U.S. President Barack Obama told Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday that UN action would not achieve a Palestinian state and the United States would veto any Security Council move to recognize Palestinian statehood, the White House said. ‘We would have to oppose any action at the UN Security Council including, if necessary, vetoing’, Ben Rhodes, the White House national security council spokesman, told reporters after Obama met Abbas in New York. PLO diplomatic envoy to the U.S. Maen Rashid Erekat told Haaretz that the U.S. President ‘reiterated the commitment of the U.S. to the establishment of the Palestinian state, as part of the two-state solution, and stressed the position of the US that the UN is not the right venue to reach this goal.” This article is posted here.
There were demonstrations in the West Bank on Thursday denouncing the Obama speech, and a number of Palestinian writers found a ready acceptance in American publications for their English-language Op-Ed articles or blog submissions.
But, Mahmoud Abbas and his negotiating team did not escape criticism either, from other articles such as this one published on the Al-Jazeera English-language website, here.
The pressure on Mr. Abbas in New York has been immense, and he has reportedly felt both isolated, and abandoned.
There are rumors that he is preparing to resign when he returns to Ramallah — though from which of his three posts [Chairman of the PLO, President of the Palestinian Authority, leader of the Fatah movement] is not entirely clear.
An extraordinary article in the New York Times today’s paper [Thursday], reported from both a reception in New York and Jerusalem, says that “Shimon Peres, Israel’s president, met secretly with Mr. Abbas three times in recent months in efforts to … avoid a United Nations battle. Mr. Netanyahu ultimately pulled the plug on those talks, leaving Mr. Abbas a sense of having no alternatives. Mr. Peres said in an interview in Jerusalem that he tried to convince Mr. Abbas that United Nations membership would not help because what is needed is independence for the Palestinians and security for the Israelis, and the United Nations can deliver neither. ‘He told me, “I’m alone, betrayed by the United States, betrayed by Israel and by everyone else”, ‘Mr. Peres recalled from a recent conversation. Mr. Abbas echoed those sentiments on Tuesday night. Terje Roed-Larsen, a former United Nations envoy to the Mideast who now leads the International Peace Institute in New York, hugged him and asked for a meeting later in the evening. ‘Tonight our schedule is full with the Americans’, Mr. Abbas replied. ‘They want us to meet, but we don’t, really we don’t want’. Mr. Larsen asked why he was going then. ‘I don’t know why really’, Mr. Abbas said,’I am not happy with anybody, not with the Americans, nor the Arabs. I am fed up with all these people and I don’t know what to do when I return back’.” Abbas’ weary, unguarded, unwise words to Terje Roed-Larsen are published here.
Part of what makes this so interesting is that it is not clear how the NYTimes heard this conversation — was its UN correspondent Neil MacFarquhar standing right beside the two men [Terje Roed-Larsen, former UN Special Envoy, and former Foreign Minister of Norway when he hosted Palestinians and Israelis for talks that led to the Oslo Accords]? Or, did Mr. Roed-Larsen pass this conversation on to the NYTimes?
It is also interesting to recall that Roed-Larsen himself was, in July 2004, once called persona non grata by Palestinian presidential spokesperson Nabil Abu Rudeineh — then working with Yasser Arafat — after Roed-Larsen told the UN Security Council that “The Palestinian leader is under house arrest but this isn’t an excuse for passivity + inaction”.
Another NYTimes article published today, reported from the corridors of the United Nations, says that in his address to the UN General Assembly, “President Obama tried to qualify his own call, just a year ago, for a Palestinian state. And President Nicolas Sarkozy of France stepped forcefully into the void, with a proposal that pointedly repudiated Mr. Obama’s approach. The extraordinary tableau Wednesday at the United Nations underscored a stark new reality: the United States is facing the prospect of having to share, or even cede, its decades-long role as the architect of Middle East peacemaking. American officials acknowledged that their various last-minute attempts to jump-start Israeli-Palestinian negotiations with help from European allies and Russia had collapsed. ‘The U.S. cannot lead on an issue that it is so boxed in on by its domestic politics’, said Daniel Levy, a former Israeli peace negotiator in the government of Ehud Barak. ‘And therefore, with the region in such rapid upheaval and the two-state solution dying, as long as the U.S. is paralyzed, others are going to have to step up’.” This article is posted here.
A third article in the NYTimes, also from the UN, reported that “President Nicolas Sarkozy of France broke sharply on Wednesday with the effort by the Obama administration and some Europeans to quash the effort by the Palestinians for recognition here, instead calling for enhancing their status in the General Assembly to that of an observer state. ‘Let us cease our endless debates on the parameters’, Mr. Sarkozy said. ‘Let us begin negotiations and adopt a precise timetable’.
The timetable he suggested is resuming the negotiations in one month, agreeing on borders and security within six months and finishing a definitive agreement within one year. The Palestinians have sought a specific timeline, suggesting that endless stalling was slowly erasing the chances for a two-state solution. In the meantime, if the Palestinian effort at membership faces a Security Council veto, the deadly reverberations will be felt across the Arab world, Mr. Sarkozy warned. ‘Each of us knows that Palestine cannot immediately obtain full and complete recognition of the status of United Nations member state … But who could doubt that a veto at the Security Council risks engendering a cycle of violence in the Middle East? … ‘Why not envisage offering Palestine the status of United Nations observer state?’ said the French leader. ‘This would be an important step forward. Most important, it would mean emerging from a state of immobility that favors only the extremists’.” This can be read in full here.
Here, for the record, are the rest of Obama’s words to the UNGA yesterday on the Israeli-Palestinian situation:
“I know that many are frustrated by the lack of progress. So am I. But the question isn’t the goal we seek – the question is how to reach it. And I am convinced that there is no short cut to the end of a conflict that has endured for decades. Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the UN – if it were that easy, it would have been accomplished by now. Ultimately, it is Israelis and Palestinians who must live side by side. Ultimately, it is Israelis and Palestinians – not us – who must reach agreement on the issues that divide them: on borders and security; on refugees and Jerusalem.
Peace depends upon compromise among peoples who must live together long after our speeches are over, and our votes have been counted. That is the lesson of Northern Ireland, where ancient antagonists bridged their differences. That is the lesson of Sudan, where a negotiated settlement led to an independent state. And that is the path to a Palestinian state.
We seek a future where Palestinians live in a sovereign state of their own, with no limit to what they can achieve. There is no question that the Palestinians have seen that vision delayed for too long. And it is precisely because we believe so strongly in the aspirations of the Palestinian people that America has invested so much time and effort in the building of a Palestinian state, and the negotiations that can achieve one.
America’s commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable, and our friendship with Israel is deep and enduring. And so we believe that any lasting peace must acknowledge the very real security concerns that Israel faces every single day. Let’s be honest: Israel is surrounded by neighbors that have waged repeated wars against it. Israel’s citizens have been killed by rockets fired at their houses and suicide bombs on their buses. Israel’s children come of age knowing that throughout the region, other children are taught to hate them. Israel, a small country of less than eight million people, looks out at a world where leaders of much larger nations threaten to wipe it off of the map. The Jewish people carry the burden of centuries of exile, persecution, and the fresh memory of knowing that six million people were killed simply because of who they were.
These facts cannot be denied. The Jewish people have forged a successful state in their historic homeland. Israel deserves recognition. It deserves normal relations with its neighbors. 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.
That truth – that each side has legitimate aspirations – is what makes peace so hard. And the deadlock will only be broken when each side learns to stand in each other’s shoes. That’s what we should be encouraging. This body – founded, as it was, out of the ashes of war and genocide; dedicated, as it is, to the dignity of every person – must recognize the reality that is lived by both the Palestinians and the Israelis. The measure of our actions must always be whether they advance the right of Israeli and Palestinian children to live in peace and security, with dignity and opportunity. We will only succeed in that effort if we can encourage the parties to sit down together, to listen to each other, and to understand each other’s hopes and fears. That is the project to which America is committed. And that is what the United Nations should be focused on in the weeks and months to come”.