I have attached links below to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s and President Abbas’ speeches at the UN. Much commentary from the left and right has already been offered, so I will not add much to the cacophony except to say that each played effectively to his extremist base, and that is the rub. President Obama, for his part, had his eye more on presidential politics than he did on Middle East peace. Consequently, nothing seems to have been gained from this UN tumult confirming what an Israeli political scientist once told me in the early 1980s: “In the Middle East there is always a lot of motion without much movement!”
It is my sense that the light at the end of this tunnel is now a faint glimmer. To make matters worse, there is no serious leadership that can move the parties forward.
I was disappointed, but not surprised, with Bibi’s speech. He said nothing new, essentially rehashing his remarks delivered before the joint session of Congress in May. Nevertheless, I would have liked to hear some grand gesture that could have broken the log-jam and offered some hope for a renewal of negotiations towards a settlement. He might have made a commitment, for example, to stop all settlement construction provided that the Palestinians come back to negotiate and keep talking. Yes, Bibi did this for 10 months already and the PA didn’t respond until the last month, but Israel needs a public relations win and this might have been one. I also would have liked to hear him express sympathy for the sufferings of the Palestinian people and speak of the importance of both the Israelis understanding the Palestinian narrative and the Palestinians understanding the Israeli narrative.
The weaknesses of Obama’s and Netanyahu’s speeches, however, pale compared to how awful President Abbas’ speech was. The most revealing and disturbing few sentences were these:
“I come before you today from the Holy Land, the land of Palestine, the land of divine messages, ascension of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and the birthplace of Jesus Christ (peace be upon him), to speak on behalf of the Palestinian people in the homeland and in the Diaspora, to say, after 63 years of suffering of the ongoing Nakba: Enough. It is time for the Palestinian people to gain their freedom and independence.”
Where is Abbas’ acknowledgment that Judaism’s birth was in the “Holy Land” (i.e. Land of Israel) 1500 years before Christianity and 2100 years before Islam? He mentioned Jesus Christ and Muhammad but ignored the Biblical patriarchs, matriarchs, King David, the Israelite prophets, and the Maccabees. His speech causes me to wonder whether Abbas accepts the Jews’ legitimately as a people with a national right to a state. If I am wondering this from my liberal-left position, Abbas may yet lose the good faith of most self-respecting Zionists.
Both Netanyahu’s and Abbas’ speeches are a recipe for war and blood-shed. I am no great defender of Benjamin Netanyahu. But in comparison, Abbas was the greatest offender because he couldn’t bring himself to acknowledge the legitimacy of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people.
As we enter the New Year, I continue to hope that something is going on that none of us knows about, that there was a quid pro quo between Obama and Netanyahu that could break this thing open.
Unfortunately, the situation seems to be worse today than it was only two weeks ago, and I am an optimist by nature, which recalls the difference between an optimist and a pessimist. The optimist says, “This is the best of all worlds.” The pessimist says, “I’m afraid you are right!”
Full transcript of PM Netanyahu’s speech:
Full transcript of President Abbas’ speech: