Addressing the United Nations on Wednesday, President Obama reiterated his support for the creation of a Palestinian state. Still, the United States is expected to block the Palestinian bid for full U.N. membership.
In the hours following Obama’s speech, the kind of backstage negotiations that have dominated activity at the U.N. this week continued.
Obama met privately with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who confidently declared that the Palestinian plan “will not succeed.”
In the meantime, European leaders continued to seek a compromise to avert a confrontation over U.N. membership for a Palestinian state.
Speaking before the General Assembly on Wednesday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy called for the Palestinians to be made an “observer state” at the U.N. as a part of a path toward statehood. He outlined a plan for renewed negotiations that would follow a specific timetable, tracking ideas that had been discussed among European foreign ministers on Tuesday.
“Let’s have one month to resume discussions, six months to find agreement on borders and security, one year to reach a definitive agreement, Sarkozy said.
Palestinian leaders had kind words to say about Sarkozy’s speech, but it was not clear that the European proposal would be enough for them to change course. Abbas is set to apply for full U.N. membership on Friday, following his own address to the General Assembly.
In his U.N. speech, Obama said it’s up to the parties directly involved to forge a lasting peace. “Ultimately, it is Israelis and Palestinians – not us – who must reach agreement on the issues that divide them,” he said.
Obama repeated his call for negotiations, though U.S. efforts to start talks a year ago quickly collapsed and there is no sign they are likely to resume any time soon. He acknowledged the difficulty of such negotiations, and said that both sides have “legitimate aspirations.”
The push for a Palestinian statehood vote has created political difficulties for the U.S. president. The U.S. can block full membership at the Security Council, and says it is prepared to do so. However, the Palestinians could also go to the General Assembly, where they could expect overwhelming support for the lesser status of a “non-member observer state.”
The U.N. debate has increased the sense of Israel’s diplomatic isolation. Critics have warned that the U.S. message of support for democracy in the Arab world – which Obama emphasized in his U.N. address – will be undercut by opposition to the Palestinian bid.
Nabil Shaath, a long-time Palestinian negotiator, told reporters at the U.N. Wednesday that Palestinians seek to achieve their goals through nonviolent means, citing as models Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. He called the U.N. “the only alternative to violence.”
“Each of us knows that Palestine cannot immediately obtain full and complete recognition of the status of United Nations member state,” Sarkozy said in his speech. “But who could doubt that a veto at the Security Council risks engendering a cycle of violence in the Middle East?”
Domestic politics in the U.S., however, are pushing strongly against the Palestinians. Some in Congress have said they will move to cut aid to the Palestinian Authority in response to its U.N. bid.
In a speech in New York on Tuesday, Texas Gov. Rick Perry – a potential Republican rival in the 2012 presidential campaign – called Obama’s stance on Israel “naïve, arrogant, misguided and dangerous.” Obama’s policies toward Israel were considered a factor in the loss of a traditionally Democratic New York congressional district in a special election last week.
In his U.N. address, Obama acknowledged Israel’s “very real security concerns.”
“America’s commitment to Israel’s security is unshakable,” he said.