With 193 heads of state or their representatives gathered together on the 70th anniversary of the United Nations, and following clarion calls from no less than Pope Francis and President Barack Obama to embrace change on human rights and the environment, one would have thought that last week’s General Assembly in New York was going to break new ground.
In the end, and in a most depressing way, the U.N. returned to business as usual, concluding its diplomat dance by week’s end by embracing inaction and chaos on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
First up before the General Assembly was Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. He all but terminated the prospect of peace negotiations with Israel when he announced that his Palestinian Authority no longer considers itself bound by its agreements with Israel, including the 1993 Oslo Accords. In his remarks, Abbas made clear that neither he nor his people would take further part in trying to solve their long-running dispute over whose land is in the West Bank of the Jordan River and beyond.
Notwithstanding those remarks, Abbas left hope of further talks in the minds of some by not announcing that he was going to implement any changes: Presumably, he won’t disband the salary-paying Palestinian National Authority and won’t curtail vital security cooperation with Israel.
The following day, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to Abbas before the same General Assembly and issued an invitation to “immediately resume direct peace negotiations without any preconditions whatsoever.” (In fairness, that wasn’t the focus of Netanyahu’s remarks. Rather, he devoted the majority of his speech to decry the nuclear agreement with Iran and glared at the assembly for 44 seconds in a stark illustration of the U.N.’s “deafening silence” about Iranian threats to destroy Israel.)
But even though he issued the invitation, Netanyahu’s embrace of “no preconditions” — which the Palestinians have similarly voiced in the past — is really a misnomer. That’s because everyone knows there are always preconditions to any effort to achieve peace in the Middle East: The Palestinians insist that Israel agree to the 1967 armistice lines as the basis of any agreement; Netanyahu has long called for the P.A. to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
Clearly, nothing changed at the U.N. That’s not only depressing, but infuriating.
Perhaps the only optimism from the Israeli perspective relates to the Jewish state’s relations with a different part of the world, as many in Israel are looking forward to when Netanyahu comes to Washington next month to finally meet with Obama. As both sides prepare for that very important meeting, we hope for a bilateral reset in U.S.-Israel relations, which we believe will benefit both countries.
As U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) told Politico, “I am hoping … that [Obama and Netanyahu] will have a meeting of minds.” Why? “Because they have to.”