Palestinian state possible within year, says Obama

 

ONE YEAR after he told the United Nations general assembly that he would not waver in his pursuit of peace, US president Barack Obama yesterday told the world body he believed a Palestinian state was possible within a year.

After Mr Obama’s commitment of September 23rd, 2009, it took more than 11 months to restart direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians on August 31st last.

“This time we will not let terror, or turbulence, or posturing, or petty politics stand in the way,” Mr Obama said. “This time we should reach for what’s best within ourselves. If we do, 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.” Mr Obama’s vision of a Palestinian state won rapturous applause. It was the only moment in his 33-minute speech when one felt a current of emotion run through the assembly.

Last year Mr Obama was applauded 12 times; this year, only three: on arriving in the cavernous assembly hall, for his dream of Palestinian independence, and when he welcomed “the efforts of UN women to protect the rights of women around the globe”. The US representation provided visible evidence of Mr Obama’s commitment to the empowerment of women.

Secretary of state Hillary Clinton, US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice, and Samantha Power, the Irishwoman responsible for multilateral issues within the US national security council, occupied the US seats in the assembly.

Mr Obama specifically praised Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, saying: “Make no mistake: the courage of a man like President Abbas – who stands up for his people in front of the world – is far greater than those who fire rockets at innocent women and children.” Surprisingly, no one applauded. He did not praise Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu in the same way.

The US leader acknowledged his efforts to broker peace between Israelis and Palestinians has been “a winding road over the last 12 months, with few peaks and many valleys”. He spoke of pessimism, cynicism, distrust and internal divisions. “Rejectionists on both sides will try to disrupt the process, with bitter words and with bombs and gunpowder.

“But consider the alternative,” he said. “If an agreement is not reached, Palestinians will never know the pride and dignity that comes with their own state. Israelis will never know the certainty and security that comes with sovereign and stable neighbours who are committed to co-existence.”

Alluding to Israeli fears of the Palestinian “demographic time bomb”, Mr Obama said: “The hard realities of demography will take hold.” It was time for Israelis and Palestinians to “answer the call of history”, to follow words with action. Israel’s partial moratorium on settlement-building will expire on September 26th. “Our position is well known,” Mr Obama said. “We believe that the moratorium should be extended.”

Israeli diplomatic sources described Mr Obama’s speech as “fair and balanced”. They said that although he called on Israel to extend the moratorium on settlement building, he did not state that a failure to do so should qualify as a reason for Palestinians to abandon the negotiations.

The president began his speech gloomily, evoking “a difficult decade” marred by the destruction of the World Trade Center and the financial crisis. But he ended on a hopeful note, recalling the end of apartheid in South Africa, and the fall of dictatorships in eastern Europe and South America.

  • Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told the UN last night that most people believe the US government was responsible for the 9/11 attacks, prompting the US delegation to leave in protest.

In his speech, Mr Ahmadinejad said it was mostly US government officials who believed a terrorist group was behind the suicide hijacking attacks. Another theory, he said, was “that some segments within the US government orchestrated the attack to reverse the declining American economy, and its grips on the Middle East, in order to save the Zionist regime”.

“The majority of the American people as well as most nations and politicians around the world agree with this view,” he said.