For Israel, Obama's Most Important Speech Is the One He Has Yet to Give

Obama made due with a concise statement on the Israel-Palestinian conflict, but after elections in November he could outline his core principles to resolving the conflict, which Netanyahu fears could be a beat away from a UN resolution.

NEW YORK – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in Western Europe when United States President Barack Obama took the podium at the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday to give his eighth and last speech to the annual gathering of world leaders in New York.
Even before he took off on his trip, Netanyahu knew that neither Israel nor the Palestinians would be a central issue in Obama’s speech and, indeed, they weren’t. Nevertheless, in comparison to last year, when Obama didn’t mention the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at all, this year he devoted two-and-a-half sentences to it.
Obama’s speech was a summation of his progressive, liberal, optimistic worldview. He used it primarily to assail all those leaders who for him represent its antithesis – conservatism, pessimism, cynicism and sanctification of the status quo. Even if he didn’t say so directly, he includes both Netanyahu and his Palestinian counterpart Mahmoud Abbas in this category.
In their conduct over the last seven-and-a-half years, Netanyahu and Abbas have been mirror images of each other. Obama will carry the scars of his efforts to push these two leaders to make progress toward peace for many years to come.
Obama mentioned the Israeli-Palestinian conflict briefly, almost cursorily. But he hit the nail on the head in defining the roots of the impasse in the peace process.
On the Palestinian side, there are violence, incitement and a leadership that still refuses to recognize that in order to establish an independent state, it will have to compromise. It will not receive 100 percent of its historical demands, from either the territorial or the national standpoint.
On the Israeli side, there are 50 years of occupation and settlement in the West Bank and East Jerusalem which the leadership not only refuses to stop, but is further entrenching every day, to the point where an irreversible reality is being created – a single state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea in which almost half the residents lack equal rights.
But Netanyahu knows that the U.S. president’s speech to the UN General Assembly isn’t the important one. The important speech is the one Obama hasn’t yet given – the one that might be given in another two months, after the U.S. presidential election.
It is the speech in which Obama will try to leave a lasting legacy on the Israeli-Palestinian issue by laying down principles for resolving all the core issues: borders, refugees, security and, above all, Jerusalem. Netanyahu’s fear is that once such a speech is given, the road to turning it into a UN Security Council resolution will be short.
That is why the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC has worked hard over the past few weeks, apparently at the urging of Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer, to recruit senators from both parties to sign a letter to Obama on this issue. Of the 100 senators, 88 ultimately signed the letter, which was sent to Obama on Monday. To achieve this impressive number of signatories, it was necessary to make the letter’s wording sufficiently vague.
The senators urged Obama to veto any “one-sided” resolution on the Israeli-Palestinian issue submitted to the UN Security Council by another country prior to January 20, the day he leaves office. The letter doesn’t demand that he refrain from promoting an American initiative, which everyone knows wouldn’t be “one-sided,” but would also demand concessions of the Palestinians. One example of this is America’s support for Israel’s demand that the Palestinians recognize it as the nation-state of the Jewish people.
The White House and the U.S. State Department have been working on various options and scenarios for American action on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and will eventually bring these ideas to the president for consideration. At this stage, Obama hasn’t yet decided whether he wants to give a speech on the issue or take some other step. And he won’t deal with the issue until after the presidential election in early November.
But if Obama decides to do something, the senators’ letter won’t stop him. And if he decides he wants to do so, he also doesn’t need this letter to veto initiatives by other countries.
On Wednesday, Obama and Netanyahu will meet face to face for the last time. The speech Obama hasn’t yet given and the action he hasn’t yet taken will be the elephant in the room.

Barak Ravid
Haaretz Correspondent

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Temple Mount temporarily closed to Jewish visitors after clashes with police

The Temple Mount was temporarily closed to Jewish visitors on Wednesday at the order of Jerusalem District Commander Yoram Halevy after Jews broke visitation rules at the holy site, police said. The Jewish visitors were expelled from the compound for bringing sacred books to the Mount and trying to pray there. After one of the individuals was cautioned, another took out a holy book, and the group was expelled. Meanwhile, renewed clashes erupted between protesters and Israeli security forces near the Lion's Gate in the Old City, where police used stun grenades against the demonstrators. A regular dynamic has developed involving clashes between Palestinians and Israel Police over the past several days near the Lion's Gate. Dozens of Palestinians are present at the site on a regular basis, urging devotion to the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount and condemning Israel. During Muslim prayer times, particularly the midday and nighttime prayers, hundreds and sometimes even thousands have been gathering there.

There have been outbreaks of violence during these periods, including stone-throwing or physical confrontations with the police. In most of these incidents, the police have been using stun grenades and sponge-tipped bullets to disperse the crowds. In a number of cases, journalists in the area have also suffered violence at the hands of the police. On Tuesday, Hassan Shaalan, a reporter for the Ynet news website, was struck by a policeman even after he identified himself as a member of the press. A group of Jerusalem-based journalists released a statement of condemnation over the incident and called on the police to permit reporters to do their jobs. The Jerusalem Police responded: "This involved an incident that took place in the course of violent disturbances of the peace that occurred in Jerusalem while the police were acting to remove the demonstrators from the street after some of them refused to vacate. The forces working on the scene are under constant threat to their lives.

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