Henry Siegman writes:
Over the past few days, much has been written about the Palestinian bid for UN recognition of its statehood and Washington’s opposition to it. But the real importance of last week’s events at the UN does not lie with the US response itself, but with the effect that response has had on the international community. For now, the Palestinian bid must be reviewed by a special UN committee, a process that will take weeks or months, thus postponing any immediate reckoning with the veto threatened by the Obama Administration. But for the first time, there is a broad recognition of the emptiness of the American claim that the US is uniquely qualified to bring the Israel-Palestine conflict to an end, and awareness that it may instead be the main obstacle to peace.
This recognition marks a dramatic shift from only two years ago. In his speech in Cairo in June 2009, Obama seemed to announce a new American commitment to fairness, international law, and a two-state solution when he proclaimed that:
the Palestinian people—Muslims and Christians—have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than 60 years they’ve endured the pain of dislocation. Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead. They endure the daily humiliations—large and small—that come with occupation. So let there be no doubt: The situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. And America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own.
In his speech at the UN General Assembly last week, however, Obama reserved his compassion for those responsible for the Palestinians’ misery. “Let’s be honest,” he said. “Israel is surrounded by neighbors that have waged repeated wars against it,” and Israeli citizens have been killed by suicide bombers on their buses. “These are facts, they can not be denied,” he said. As noted by The New York Times’s Ethan Bronner, the speech could have been written by an Israeli government official: “It said nothing about Israeli settlements, the 1967 lines, occupation, or Palestinian suffering, focusing instead on Israeli defense needs.”
Moreover, Obama’s depiction of today’s Israel was neither honest nor factual. Far from waging repeated wars on Israel, a decade ago its neighbors offered to establish full normal relations, including diplomatic recognition, trade and security—an offer Israel has to this day spurned and rejected. The earlier Arab hostility to Israel which Obama invoked is as relevant to Netanyahu’s policies as the Soviet Union’s hostility to America is to Obama’s policies.