President Obama delivered his long-awaited speech to the United Nations General Assembly yesterday, Wednesday, September 23rd. The address was entitled “Responsibility for our Common Future”.
He claimed major accomplishments in fighting al-Qaeda, dealing with climate change, working for peace in the Middle East, moving to “responsibly” end the war in Iraq, prohibiting the use of torture by the United States “without exception or equivocation”, etc., etc.
Obama added that his administration has “re-engaged the United Nations” and that it intends to work in a multilateral fashion. He outlined the challenges ahead. He called upon all nations to move beyond past differences and to solve global problems with the “cooperative effort of the whole world”.
In other words, the speech was standard Barack Obama rhetoric – big on inspiration, short on concrete specifics. But buried in the speech was one promising sentence regarding Obama’s conception of the Israeli state that would be living alongside an independent Palestinian state: “The goal is clear: two states living side by side in peace and security – a Jewish State of Israel, with true security for all Israelis: and a viable, independent Palestinian state…”
The usual formulation of the so-called two-state solution refers to Israel in bland terms, omitting its uniquely Jewish history and character. Will Obama, while continuing to push Israel to end its settlements and to make other concessions for peace, insist that Israel’s right to define itself as a Jewish state be respected as part of a final resolution of the decades-old conflict? He must. After all, if Palestine decides to enshrine Islamic law into its constitution as its Arab neighbors have done, will anyone in the international community object? Why should Israel be discriminated against in the region by not having its right to ensure protection of its Jewish heritage in its laws?
President Obama has his work cut out for him if he is serious about ensuring the security of a “Jewish State of Israel”. This was evident in the remarks of the Palestine Authority Prime Minister H.E. Salam Fayyad during a press conference held at UN headquarters on September 22nd – the same day that President Obama was meeting with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, to jumpstart the peace negotiations.
In response to my question whether his government could ever recognize Israel’s right to exist securely as a Jewish state, even if the Palestinians obtain the state that they are seeking, his answer was that a Jewish state was not part of the Palestinian’s agreement to recognize Israel’s right to exist. This is tantamount to wiping out Israel as we know it today, especially considering the fact that the Palestinians continue to insist on the “right of return” for millions of their refugees.
Prime Minister Fayyad repeatedly referred to the 2003 Roadmap, accepted by the Quartet of the UN, the U.S., Russia and the European Union as the basis for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He said that it required Israel to freeze all settlements, and in that he is correct. However, he refused to get past this one issue to consider all of the stipulations of the Roadmap. And until perhaps the last few days, so has Obama.
The Roadmap’s full title is a “Performance-Based Roadmap to a Permanent Two-State Solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict”. It lays out obligations on both sides and on the neighboring Arab countries. But Fayyad only wants to discuss what Israel must do and nothing else.
Just to remind the Palestinian prime minister, here are a few items in Phase 1 of the Roadmap that are not close to being met by the Palestinians and their allies:
- Palestinians declare an unequivocal end to violence and terrorism and undertake visible efforts on the ground to arrest, disrupt, and restrain individuals and groups conducting and planning violent attacks on Israelis anywhere.
- Rebuilt and refocused Palestinian Authority security apparatus begins sustained, targeted, and effective operations aimed at confronting all those engaged in terror and dismantlement of terrorist capabilities and infrastructure. This includes commencing confiscation of illegal weapons and consolidation of security authority, free of association with terror and corruption.
- Arab states cut off public and private funding and all other forms of support for groups supporting and engaging in violence and terror.
The control of Gaza by Hamas is in direct conflict with the Roadmap. The Palestinian Authority’s inability to ensure stable secure conditions in territory that Israel no longer even occupies undercuts its standing to question Israel’s compliance with the Roadmap. The Arab states’ continued channeling of money through front organizations to Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups belies any intention on their part to pursue a true and lasting peace with Israel consistent with the Roadmap.
It would be better to build on the progress that has been made in recent months in which Israeli roadblocks have been removed and Palestinian security has improved in the West Bank. Facts on the ground that can prove the potential for economic growth in the West Bank as a foundation for a stable political environment leading to independence may be the best path to defeating the extremist elements in Gaza. Then, perhaps, the Roadmap can begin to be realized. But that can only happen if the Palestinians respect Israel’s right to govern itself according to its founding Jewish principles, as much as the Palestinians expect autonomy in how to govern themselves according to Islamic law if that is what they decide.