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UNITED NATIONS: Israel’s absence during Obama speech draws attention

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President Obama’s call Thursday in an address before the U.N. General Assembly for Israel to extend its West Bank construction moratorium got little reaction from the Israeli delegation. That’s because they weren’t there.

As Obama spoke about the importance of supporting U.S.-brokered peace talks, television cameras panned to empty chairs at Israel’s U.N. desk.

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Speculation immediately spread across Internet sites and among arm-chair analysts about whether Israel was snubbing Obama and boycotting his speech. Israel has been resisting mounting international pressure to extend the partial moratorium, which is set to expire Sunday. Palestinians have threatened to quit peace talks if construction resumes, though they’ve also hinted in recent days that they are open to a compromise.

Israeli officials have denied their absence was an intentional slight, saying they were observing the Jewish holiday of Sukkot and had informed the U.S. in advance that they would not be present.

Nevertheless, American officials expressed some disappointment that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to skip the U.N. meeting, sending other Israeli leaders to represent the country. Obama had hoped to use the forum to continue efforts to prevent peace talks from collapsing.

And some of Netanyahu’s right-wing colleagues condemned Obama’s speech, accusing the U.S. president of ‘inappropriate interference.’

-- Edmund Sanders in Jerusalem


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