United Nations, New York – US President Barack Obama reaffirmed America’s long commitment to Israel shortly after addressing 66th session of the United Nations General Assembly. “The bonds between the United States and Israel are unbreakable […] and the United States’s commitment to Israel security is stronger than has ever been.” Obama said shortly after signaling a veto to possible Palestinian candidacy for a UN seat.
“We’ve made our position clear, which is that we oppose any action at the U.N. Security Council including, if necessary, vetoing,” White House national security council spokesman Ben Rhodes said, Reuters news agency reported.
Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, responded to the warm commitment of his main ally saying that the US support to Israel’s peace and security deserves a “badge of honor,” sealing what seemed to be a declaration of eternal love between two countries that have long shaped their future together.
Despite the granted lack of US support, Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is determined to seek full UN membership at the Security Council this Friday.
"He has been very clear what his intent is, which is to go to the Council and to begin the process of securing membership there,” Rhodes confirmed, Reuters news agency reported.
DIRECT TALKS, THE ONLY PATH TO STATEHOOD
However, the decisions of the two leaders are not surprising. After days of warnings of a US veto to the Palestinian bid, announced last Friday by President Abbas, President Obama made it clear that a Palestinian State could only be conceived through direct negotiations with Israel.
“There is no short cut to the end of a conflict that has endured for decades. Peace is hard work,” said President Obama before the plenary of the General Assembly. “Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the United Nations […] Ultimately, it is the Israelis and the Palestinians –”not us–” who must reach agreement on the issues that divide them,” President Obama said before a far less charming General Assembly that the one he addressed last year, when he said he hoped that Palestine would sit today among the sovereign nations.
President Abbas looked down and covered his face with his left hand. His Palestinian colleagues looked sadly at the man addressing the forum of now-193 member states of the international community.
“We will only succeed in that effort if we can encourage the parties to sit down, to listen to each other, and to understand each other’s hopes and each other’s fears. That is the project to which America is committed,” the US President said, setting the path to more years of fruitless talks between Israel and Palestine in addition to the two decades of failed negotiations. The last round of talks broke down one year ago.
THE ARAB SPRING AND PALESTINE
President Obama made clear his position after walking the expecting diplomats through the more than six months-long Arab Spring revolutions and expressing unconditional support of the United States to those men and women, of all religions and ethnicities, that stood up for their “universal rights” to freedom, justice and democracy.
“We saw in those protesters the moral force of non-violence that has lit the world from Delhi to Warsaw, from Selma to South Africa — and we knew that change had come to Egypt and to the Arab world.” Palestinian delegates looked at the US leader with an incredulous glance.
While President Obama made clear his commitment to a two-State solution “with no limit to what they [the Palestinians] can achieve,” he also alerted about the security concerns that Israel faces on a daily basis in a region in which some of its neighbors “have waged repeated wars against it.” “Israel’s children –”the US President went on–” come of age knowing that throughout the region, other children are taught to hate them.”
In line with the US position on the Arab Spring uprisings, Hanan Ashrawi, a senior Palestinian official, accused Obama of being selective when upholding principles of freedom and self-determination.
"When it comes to Palestinians suffering from an oppressive foreign military occupation, somehow these principles do not apply,” Ashrawi said. “They only apply when Arabs rebel against their own oppressive regime," Reuters quoted the Palestinian representative as saying.
OBSERVER STATE STATUS
One of the major US allies in Europe, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, acknowledged the failure of Western countries to help provide a solution to the Middle East longest conflict.
“We can wait no longer! The method used up to now has failed,” the French leader said in a forceful tone. “Let us cease our endless debates on the parameters and begin negotiations.”
The European leader suggested the status of “observer state” for Palestine at the General Assembly as a bridge to the final status of statehood, something that would downgrade Palestine’s intention to seek full membership, but would break a 20 years-old deadlock of failed talks facilitated by Washington. This interim solution lays one step further than the already expected US response, a leitmotiv of decades-long unsuccessful foreign policy that was embraced by several presidents.
To achieve the final goal of having an Arab State, the European leader put on the table a twelve-months-long magic timetable to resume negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians, after expressing frustration over an ongoing 60 years-long conflict.
“One month to resume discussions, six months to reach an agreement on borders and security, and one year to reach a definitive agreement,” said the French President, dissociating himself from the American approach. And then, as a magic formula, this timetable would bring a peaceful end to decades-long conflict which has shaped the map of international relations between West and the Middle East and has led years of political and financial manoeuvres among the allies of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples.
If President Abbas finally decides to seek the “observer state” status –”something which seems likely to be backed by a majority at the General Assembly, where no veto is possible- Palestine would enjoy the same status as that of the Vatican. This status would not allow Palestine to vote on resolutions at the General Assembly, but would enable this member to express its opinion on the topics of debate. Palestine would also be able to go to the International Criminal Court for claims against Israel.
CONSEQUENCES IN THE ARAB WORLD
The French President, however, was the only European leader to raise concerns about a possible violent response in the Arab World, which would see long freedom-seeking Palestinians denied from enjoying the Arab Spring.
“Is there anyone who doubts that a veto at the Security Council will engender a cycle of violence in the Middle East?” French President raised the question at the General Assembly.
President Obama chose not to comment on the interim solution propose by his French counterpart, when asked by reporters.
Some members of the international community, such as the Foreign Minister of Spain, Trinidad JimÃ©nez, qualified the French proposal as “positive,” since it embraces “different sensibilities within the European Union.” Spain, a country with growing political instabilities between some of its provinces and the central government, has long worked closely with the European Union to try to find a favorable solution to Palestine.
On the other side of the political spectrum, and with a far more aggressive speech, the Bolivian President Evo Morales approached the decades-long issue with a different discourse.
“There has been bombardment in Libya to help the rebels oust a government, why there is no bombardment against Israelis who have hurt the Palestinians so much? Where is NATO now?” President Morales asked while comparing both conflicts engulfing the Arab World. “Why there has been no attempt to hold direct talks between the rebels and pro-Gadhafi forces?” the Bolivian leader questioned.
The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, also spoke before the General Assembly, and discussed the issue of Palestinian bid for a UN seat. He also asked for a return to the negotiation table, without saying anything about a possible veto, in the event Palestine finally decides to present its candidacy to full membership at the Security Council this Friday.
It all seems to indicate that President Abbas will take the straight path to full recognition of Palestine as a member state, long-denied at the Security Council. A more than expected US veto would not only prevent Palestine from its “legitimate right” to become a sovereign state –”according to President Abbas–” but would greatly compromise the United States before a mainly sympathetic international community. The extend of the consequences of this conclusive US response in the Arab World is unpredictable at a moment of political instability all across the Greater Middle East. However, the final veto will likely weaken the image of the United States as an unconditional supporter of the search for freedom, justice and democracy of peoples of all kinds.
Now, the onus is upon the Palestinian leader to take a stand in a world where, as President Obama pointed out, there is no longer place for authoritative regimes and denial of human rights.