WASHINGTON – The Israeli-Palestinian peace process may
be stalling, but US President Barack Obama says he remains firmly committed to resolving the Mideast conflict.
In his address before the United Nations General Assembly in New York Thursday, Obama reiterated Washington's commitment to Israel's security
and stressed that infringing on its legitimacy will meet strong American objection.
"Israel’s existence must not be a subject for debate. Israel is a sovereign state, and the historic homeland of the Jewish people. It should be clear to all that efforts to chip away at Israel’s legitimacy will only be met by the unshakeable opposition of the United States," he said.
Obama also urged Arab leaders to establish diplomatic relations with Israel and urge the Palestinian Authority and Israel to work through their differences towards a viable peace agreement.
"Many are pessimistic about this process. The cynics say that Israelis and Palestinians are too distrustful of each other, and too divided internally, to forge lasting peace," he said. "Rejectionists on both sides will try to disrupt the process, with bitter words and with bombs. Some say that the gaps between the parties are too big; the potential for talks to break down is too great; and that after decades of failure, peace is simply not possible.
"But consider the alternative," the president said. "If an agreement is not reached, Palestinians will never know the pride and dignity that comes with their own state. Israelis will never know the certainty and security that comes with sovereign and stable neighbors who are committed to co-existence. The hard realities of demography will take hold. More blood will be shed. This Holy Land will remain a symbol of our differences, instead of our common humanity."
Obama also urged Israel to extend its West Bank settlement freeze, saying the construction halt is having a positive effect.
"Israel’s settlement moratorium has made a difference on the ground, and improved the atmosphere for talks," he said. "Our position on this issue is well known. We believe that the moratorium should be extended."
Obama said that peace must be made by Israelis and Palestinians, but added that "each of us has a responsibility to do our part as well. Those of us who are friends of Israel must understand that true security for the Jewish state requires an independent Palestine – one that allows the Palestinian people to live with dignity and opportunity. And those of us who are friends of the Palestinians must understand that the rights of the Palestinian people will be won only through peaceful means – including genuine reconciliation with a secure Israel."
"Many in this hall count themselves as friends of the Palestinians. But these pledges must now be supported by deeds," he said.
"Those who have signed on to the Arab Peace Initiative should seize this opportunity to make it real by describing and demonstrating the normalization that it promises Israel. Those who speak out for Palestinian self-government should help the Palestinian Authority with political and financial support," Obama said.
"This time, we should draw upon the teachings of tolerance that lie at the heart of three great religions that see Jerusalem’s soil as sacred. This time we should reach for what’s best within ourselves. If we do, when we come back here next year, we can have an agreement that will lead to a new member of the United Nations – an independent state of Palestine, living in peace with Israel.”
The president also used the occasion to convey a message to Iran, noting that he "offered the Islamic Republic of Iran an extended hand last year."
"Now let me be clear once more: the United States and the international community seek a resolution to our differences with Iran, and the door remains open to diplomacy should Iran choose to walk through it," he said. "But the Iranian government must demonstrate a clear and credible commitment, and confirm to the world the peaceful intent of its nuclear program."