President Obama slammed efforts by the Palestinians to achieve statehood through the United Nations, rather than through negotiations with Israel. Addressing the United Nations General Assembly, the president echoed others in his administration calling for the Palestinians not to pursue a bid for recognition by the 193-member body for full membership and statehood, which the Palestinian Authority says it still intends to do.
"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 that goal," he said in his speech on Wednesday morning.
"And I am convinced that there is no short cut to the end of a conflict that has endured for decades. Peace is hard work. Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the United Nations—if it were that easy, it would have been accomplished by now."
The U.S. has been escalating its attempts to persuade the Palestinians not to go to the U.N. with its bid for statehood, insisting such a move would be symbolic and change nothing on the ground.
Speaking last week to reporters, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice said expectations will be high "but the economy will be the economy, the situation on the ground will remain the same situation on the ground. They will not have any more sovereignty, freedom, or autonomy than they feel today."
The U.S. is expected to use its veto to shoot down any bid the Palestinians bring to the U.N. Security Council, which the Palestinians say they'll do later this week.
The president also restated unwavering support for Israel, and lectured many of those states represented in the audience on the opposition their countries have maintained to normalizing relations with the U.S. ally.
"Let’s be honest: Israel is surrounded by neighbors that have waged repeated wars against it. Israel’s citizens have been killed by rockets fired at their houses and suicide bombs on their buses. Israel’s children come of age knowing that throughout the region, other children are taught to hate them," Obama said.
"Israel, a small country of less than 8 million people, looks out at a world where leaders of much larger nations threaten to wipe it off of the map. The Jewish people carry the burden of centuries of exile, persecution, and the fresh memory of knowing that 6 million people were killed simply because of who they were."
Only last week, the Israeli Embassy in Cairo was attacked, its staff forced to evacuate. And Egypt has had a long-standing truce with Israel. But the Egyptians have also reopened their border with the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, allowing—the Israelis claim—weapons as well as goods to pass through.
Obama chided anti-Israel nations to accept the permanent existence of an Israeli nation in the Middle East.
"These facts cannot be denied. The Jewish people have forged a successful state in their historic homeland. Israel deserves recognition," Obama said. "It deserves normal relations with its neighbors. And friends of the Palestinians do them no favors by ignoring this truth, just as friends of Israel must recognize the need to pursue a two-state solution, with a secure Israel next to an independent Palestine."
While affirming U.S. support for Israel and the currently frozen peace process, Obama congratulated the people of Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt for their successful struggles against dictatorial regimes.
"But let us remember, peace is hard. Peace is hard, progress can be reversed, prosperity comes slowly, societies can split apart," Obama warned. "The measure of our success must be whether people can live in sustained freedom, dignity, and security. And the United Nations and its member states must do their part to support those basic aspirations."
He said the U.S. will continue to support pro-democracy movements in Bahrain, Yemen, and Syria. He called on the United Nations to sanction the Syrian regime, as Washington has already done.
"There is no excuse for inaction," Obama said. "Now is the time for the United Nations Security Council to sanction the Syrian regime and stand with the Syrian people." American sanctions against Damascus hold little sway, since its main trading partners are in Europe and the Middle East.
President Obama recounted the tumultuous shift in the global landscape in the year since he last address the General Assembly: the death of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, the routing of Tunisian, Egyptian, and Libyan dictators, the creation of South Sudan, and free elections in the Ivory Coast. But challenges remain. Iran and North Korea continue to ignore regulations on nuclear armament, poverty and disease continue to claim lives from Asia to Africa, climate-change research needs more attention, and the rights of millions of women and children around the world continue to be ignored.
But the president ended his address on a hopeful note, quoting from President Truman's inaugural address: “The United Nations is essentially an expression of the moral nature of man’s aspirations.” Obama continued: "As we live in a world that is changing at a breathtaking pace, that is a lesson that we must never forget."