That goal has grown more remote since Obama spoke those words. As he returns Wednesday to address the General Assembly, Obama is facing a vexing diplomatic challenge: to explain how his hopes of last year square with his opposition this year to a Palestinian bid for statehood.
Obama will specifically address, his advisers say, the lack of progress in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, an issue he made a priority on taking office. Obama will seek to draw a distinction between his support for Palestinian statehood and his opposition to pursuing that goal through the United Nations.
He will be doing so for two audiences — one suspicious of his intentions toward Israel, the other seeking to understand how he can encourage self-rule in some places and not in others. His ability to make his case has implications for his reelection prospects — highlighted Tuesday when a leading GOP rival forcefully criticized his handling of Israel — and for his diplomatic overture to Muslims abroad.
“We would not be here today at the very precipice of such a dangerous move if the Obama policy in the Middle East wasn’t naive, arrogant, misguided and dangerous,” Texas Gov. Rick Perry said in a speech here attended by Israeli and American Jewish leaders.
Until now, administration officials have explained Obama’s opposition in practical terms, arguing that a statehood resolution approved over the objection of Israel will only make it harder to return to direct peace talks over final borders, the status of Palestinian refugees and their descendants, and the future of Jerusalem.
“The point that the president will make is, at the end of the day, peace is going to have to be made between the parties,” said Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser for strategic communications. “There’s no shortcut.”
But the administration’s argument places it firmly outside the prevailing sentiment of the Middle East, swept up in the new freedoms of the Arab Spring.
Last week, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas announced that he will bring a statehood resolution to the Security Council, and administration officials reiterated Tuesday that the United States will veto the measure if needed.
U.S. diplomats are working to round up enough votes against the resolution to make a U.S. veto unnecessary, although it remains unclear whether a majority of the 15-member council will oppose a bid that is backed by most U.N. members.
On Tuesday, Obama met with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, an outspoken advocate of the Palestinian statehood bid. White House officials said Obama told Erdogan that U.N. recognition would not enhance the prospects for the creation of a Palestinian state.