President Obama urged world leaders Wednesday morning to stay out of the conflict over Palestinian statehood as American diplomats pushed to delay a vote on the question during this week’s general assembly of the United Nations.
Speaking to the full assembly, Obama argued that the two sides will never live in peace unless they work it out themselves.
“Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the U.N. – if it were that easy, it would have been accomplished by now,” Obama said. “Ultimately, it is the Israelis and Palestinians, not us, who must reach agreement on the issues that divide them, on borders and security; on refugees and Jerusalem.”
Obama was scheduled to meet privately with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately after his morning address, and then to see Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas late in the afternoon.
Abbas appears resolute about filing a request on Friday for the U.N. Security Council to recognize the statehood of Palestine, though negotiators are hopeful that an actual vote can be delayed indefinitely. With that question tabled, the U.S. and its partners hope to bring the two sides together again in direct talks.
But the morning session marked a disappointing anniversary, coming a year after Obama mused before the assembly that they might come together in 2011 with a peace agreement “that will lead to a new member of the United Nations, an independent, sovereign state of Palestine living in peace with Israel.”
Moments before Obama spoke, the full chamber applauded the Brazilian president as she voiced support for Palestinian statehood. President Dilma Rousseff welcomed South Sudan to the United Nations, and expressed regret that she couldn’t do the same for “a free and sovereign Palestine.”
For Obama, the moment is dicey, both in terms of foreign policy and of domestic politics. Whether the U.S. casts its veto against statehood or not, his declared willingness to do so has inspired discontent among Arab leaders with whom the U.S. is trying to foster warmer relations. Yet Obama is under considerable pressure at home to express his solidarity with Israel.
In his morning remarks, Obama expressed support for both sides while still refusing to yield on the Palestinian request.
“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 deliver a Palestinian state,” Obama said.
At the same time, he said, the U.S. commitment to the security of Israel is “unshakeable,” and that “any lasting peace must acknowledge the very real security concerns that Israel faces every single day.”