Obama spoke ahead of a likely effort by the Palestinian Authority to seek U.N. recognition of a Palestinian state, an effort that the United States has vowed to veto in the U.N. Security Council, which must endorse the statehood bid before it goes to the General Assembly.
But Obama made no direct reference to a U.S. veto, instead maintaining that a resolution of the conflict can come only through negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas plans to give the Security Council on Friday a letter seeking statehood but will allow “some time” for the council to consider the request before taking the case to the General Assembly, a senior Palestinian official told reporters Wednesday afternoon. This would avert an immediate showdown at the United Nations over the statehood bid.
In his speech, Obama also called on the U.N. Security Council to impose sanctions on the Syrian government, which he accused of murdering, detaining and torturing thousands of opposition protesters.
He spoke poetically about the anti-government revolutions that have ousted long-standing autocrats in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia since he last appeared before the General Assembly a year ago.
“Something is happening in our world,” Obama told the gathered heads of state, diplomats and others. “The way things have been is not the way they will be. The humiliating grip of corruption and tyranny is being pried open.”
But Obama noted that in places such as Syria, Iran and other nations facing citizen revolts, there is more work to be done to achieve the rights and freedoms he said were spreading in much of the world.
And he acknowledged that for much of his audience the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “stands as a test of these principles — and for American foreign policy.”
When he spoke last year here, Obama had only weeks before inaugurated a new round of direct negotiations between Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But those talks collapsed soon after when Netanyahu declined to renew a politically difficult moratorium on Jewish settlement construction in the West Bank that he had imposed to meet a Palestinian condition for talks. The two sides have not negotiated since, and Abbas, frustrated by the lack of movement, has decided to seek U.N. recognition of a Palestinian state this month.
Recalling that he called for an independent Palestine when he addressed the U.N. General Assembly from the same podium a year ago, Obama said: “I know that many are frustrated by the lack of progress. I assure you, so am I. But the question isn’t the goal we seek. The question is how to reach it. And I am convinced that there is no shortcut to the end of a conflict that has endured for decades.”