In his address before the UN General Assembly on Wednesday, President Barack Obama noted that a year ago, he stood at the same podium and called for an independent Palestine. But that vision must be achieved through compromise between the Israelis and the Palestinians, he said.
“I believed then, and I believe now, that the Palestinian people deserve a state of their own,” Obama said. “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, the President noted that he put forward a new basis for negotiations last May.
“That basis is clear, and well known to all of us here,” he said. “Israelis must know that any agreement provides assurances for their security. Palestinians deserve to know the territorial basis of their state.” Obama acknowledged that many are frustrated by the lack of progress, including himself.
“But the question is not 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,” he said. “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, and they are the ones who must reach agreement on borders, security, refugees and Jerusalem, he added “Peace depends upon compromise among peoples who must live together long after our speeches are over, and our votes have been counted,” the President said.
“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,” he said.
“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.”
The U.S. commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable, and the U.S. friendship with Israel is deep and enduring, Obama said.
“And so we believe that any lasting peace must acknowledge the very real security concerns that Israel faces every single day,” he added.
Israel is surrounded by neighbors that have waged repeated wars against it, Obama said.
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 the map, he said.
“Israel deserves recognition,” Obama said. “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, he said.
For the delegates to the United Nations, “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,” Obama said.
“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.”