President Obama’s speech to the UN General Assembly touched very lightly on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That alone is a step forward: in previous years, he has made it a central part of his speech and left the impression that it is the main issue in world affairs.
In 2009, his first address to the UN, he took only 2 paragraphs and said, “The time has come to re-launch negotiations.” He was just getting going.
In 2010, it was 14 paragraphs and the center of his whole speech. He took pride in the launch of negotiations and exuded optimism: if we all worked hard, “when we come back here next year, we can have an agreement that will lead to a new member of the United Nations -- an independent, sovereign state of Palestine, living in peace with Israel.”
In 2011, he was at it again, 11 paragraphs, but noting that “the parties have not bridged their differences.” No new member for the UN, but still a central part of his remarks.
In 2012, things hadn’t worked out, so he was down to one paragraph. “The road is hard,” he explained.
In 2013, he said, “In the near term, America’s diplomatic efforts will focus on two particular issues: Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, and the Arab-Israeli conflict,” and he was back up to 5 paragraphs. Hope springs eternal: “We are also determined to resolve a conflict that goes back even further than our differences with Iran, and that is the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis.” This was the year Obama visited Israel. “Let’s support Israeli and Palestinian leaders who are prepared to walk the difficult road to peace,” he said, optimistic about Kerry’s efforts to get new talks going.
This year, he drops the idea that this conflict is central and indeed singles it out for criticism.
Here is what he said:
“As bleak as the landscape appears, America will never give up the pursuit of peace. The situation in Iraq, Syria and Libya should cure anyone of the illusion that this conflict is the main source of problems in the region; for far too long, it has been used in part as a way to distract people from problems at home. “
That’s progress, and as in 2013 the issue gets only one paragraph. Obama has come a long way. Just this week his former national security advisor, Jim Jones, said that “I’m of the belief that had God appeared in front of President Obama in 2009 and said if he could do one thing on the face of the planet, and one thing only, to make the world a better place and give people more hope and opportunity for the future, I would venture that it would have something to do with finding the two-state solution to the Middle East.” Jones himself still needs re-education. In the same address he said what he’s been saying since serving in the White House: The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is “one of the most important issues on the planet, and it affects just about everything from the security standpoint.” Obama is no longer saying that.
But the president still has not junked the “S” word, “sustainable.” In the same paragraph of his UN speech today he said this:
“And the violence engulfing the region today has made too many Israelis ready to abandon the hard work of peace. But let’s be clear: the status quo in the West Bank and Gaza is not sustainable. We cannot afford to turn away from this effort – not when rockets are fired at innocent Israelis, or the lives of so many Palestinian children are taken from us in Gaza. 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.”
Not sustainable! The Obama folk cannot resist the term. At the Munich Security Conference this year, the secretary of state was enthusiastic: “Today’s status quo absolutely, to a certainty, I promise you 100-percent, cannot be maintained. It’s not sustainable.” He, Secretary of State Clinton, and just about every other Obama administration official has used the term—and now Obama does it again. The “status quo in the West Bank and Gaza” has actually done a very good imitation of being sustainable, given that it has been sustained for 47 years—since 1967.
Well, Sharon got the Israelis out of Gaza in 2005, but in the West Bank things have changed less.