Addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which his administration had such high hopes of resolving at the beginning of his presidency, Obama offered his brief analysis on the root cause of the ongoing animosity between the two sides.
"Surely Israelis and Palestinians will be better off if Palestinians reject incitement and recognize the legitimacy of Israel but Israel recognizes that it cannot permanently occupy and settle Palestinian land," he summarized.
The president’s attempt to strike a balance and distribute blame between the warring parties was somewhat at odds with the conclusions drawn earlier by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who also made his final speech to the General Assembly on Tuesday.
“As a friend of both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples, it pains me that this past decade has been ten years lost to peace," he said. "Ten years lost to illegal settlement expansion. Ten years lost to intra-Palestinian divide, growing polarization and hopelessness."
"This is madness," the UN secretary-general, who is stepping down on December 31, emphasized. "Replacing a two-state solution with a one-state construct would spell doom: denying Palestinians their freedom and rightful future, and pushing Israel further from its vision of a Jewish democracy towards greater global isolation."
Meanwhile, President Obama, after acknowledging the “real and troubling areas" where "freedom is in retreat,” noted that democracy had flourished under US leadership. “The fact remains that the number of democracies around the world has nearly doubled,” Obama said
Turning his attention to the broader Middle East and the intensification of radicalism which has beset the region, President Obama implored leaders to categorically reject all forms of fundamentalism.
"We must reject any forms of fundamentalism or racism or a belief in ethnic superiority that makes our traditional identities irreconcilable with modernity. Instead we need to embrace tolerance,” said the president.
“If our religion leads us to persecute those of another faith, if we jail or beat people who are gay ... if we discriminate ... then the fragile bonds of civilization will fray. The world is too small ... for us to be able to resort to those ways of thinking. We see this mindset in the Middle East,” he continued.
He further acknowledged the difficulties involved in allaying the chaos which has brought misery and suffering to so many across the fragile regions. The results of fundamentalism, he said, "will not be quickly reversed."
Obama also appealed to world leaders to open their hearts, and by extension their borders, to the plight of the Syrian refugees fleeing their country, which is embroiled in a grisly civil war. “We have to imagine what it would be like for our family, our children if the unspeakable were to happen to us."
In addition, the American president extolled the virtues of international integration, urging his listeners not to reject the principle but to embrace it and to work to ensure its success.
“We must work together to make sure that the benefits of such integration are broadly shared,” he told the world leaders before turning to the inequality of the world economy and warning of the inherent dangers of gaping discrepancies in the distribution of wealth.
"A world in which 1 percent of humanity controls as much wealth as the other 99 percent will never be stable," he said.