From The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 22 September 2011, by Robert Satloff*:
On the emotive issue of the Palestinian request for UN admission as a state, ...Obama delivered one of the most impassioned statements in support of Israel ever made by an American president in the well of the General Assembly.
... Obama went far beyond just making a case for negotiations as the only way to resolve the conflict. ...Obama's speech to the assembled leaders from more than 190 countries was essentially a call for people around the world to put themselves in the shoes of Israel and, most notably, the Jewish people. As he said:
"Let us be honest with ourselves: 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 and persecution, and fresh memories of knowing that six million people were killed simply because of who they are. Those are facts. They 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."
...Obama's statement was not, one should point out, the unvarnished, chapter-and-verse recitation of Israel-friendly policy views on substantive issues. He could have noted that only one of the two parties -- the Palestinians -- has refused to negotiate since last September.
- He might have specifically underscored the reality of a divided Palestine, in which a sizable part of the state seeking UN recognition is under the control of a terrorist movement committed to Israel's (and the Palestinian Authority's) destruction.
- He did not take the opportunity to clarify certain aspects of his parameters for peacemaking that he sidestepped in his May remarks, such as the eminently logical principle that Palestinian refugees will return to Palestine, not Israel, or
- the urgency of an agreement that ends the conflict and terminates all claims once and for all.
- He could have scolded many in the room, especially Arab states and their all-talk-but-no-action approach to the Palestinian state-building project.
- And he should have called specifically on rulers and peoples in countries that already have treaties with Israel (i.e., Egypt and Jordan) to strengthen the regional environment for peace by defending their strategic choice for peace, rather than letting it be the preferred pinata for discontent over domestic issues.
Still, those deficiencies only marginally detract from the declaratory power of his speech. Many factors may have motivated the president to make his passionate statement opposing Palestinian UN recognition, but whether it was born of high policy, moral conviction, or crass politics, it will be compared in the annals of America's lonely defense of Israel at the United Nations alongside Daniel Patrick Moynihan's castigation of the Zionism-is-Racism resolution during the Ford administration, and John Negroponte's declaration during the George W. Bush administration that the United States would veto any Security Council resolution on the Middle East conflict that failed to condemn terrorism against Israel....
*Robert Satloff is executive director of The Washington Institute.