Obama’s UN Speech: Meaningful Support for Israel, or Hollow Talk?

President rejects Palestinians’ unilateralist course, but former ambassador John Bolton and former governor Mike Huckabee say America should have acted more aggressively leading up to the statehood bid.

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Click photo to download. Caption: Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee speaks at the "Perils of Global Intolerance" conference that countered Durban III on Sept. 22 in New York. Credit: Enrique Cubillo/85 Photo Productions, Inc.

President Barack Obama, addressing the UN General Assembly last week, said that Israeli-Palestinian peace “will not come through statements and resolutions at the UN.” It was exactly what the Jewish community wanted to hear, but according to former US ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, it was too little, too late.

“The Obama administration didn’t treat this question of a Palestinian statehood effort with the seriousness it deserved,” Bolton said in an interview with JointMedia News Service. “I think had they acted six or nine months ago, they could have shut this whole thing off.”

Bolton—who was part of a lineup of prominent speakers at “The Perils of Global Intolerance,” a Sept. 22 counter-conference to Durban III organized by the Hudson Institute and Touro College—is among those looking beyond Obama’s words at the GA to point out that, although the president firmly opposed unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood, US policy in the year preceding the GA may have been partially responsible for the statehood bid itself.

Since the bid was building serious momentum in third-world countries and in Europe for some time, Bolton told the crowd, the US could have tried to combat the effort earlier through an aggressive action such as threatening to cut off funding for the UN Human Rights Council. After his speech, Bolton told JointMedia News Service, “In a way, the [US] administration has helped create the circumstances that we face today [on Palestinian statehood], and what’s happening is it’s scrambling to avoid a diplomatic debacle.”

Bolton added that in the midst of analyzing the president’s words this year, it’s important not to forget the holes in his 2010 address at the UN. Last year, Obama “gave the impression that it was easier to achieve statehood than obviously it is, and while he did say that he envisaged statehood coming through agreement, that part got lost in the translation,” Bolton said.

Former Arkansas governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee said in the closing speech of the conference that the US should have done “far more than threaten to veto” the statehood bid, echoing Bolton’s suggestion of threatening to cut US funding to the UN.

Huckabee took things a step further in an interview with JointMedia News Service, explaining that Obama has sent out “mixed signals” on the whole Middle East—not just Israel. For example, the US immediately called for Hosni Mubarak to step down in Egypt] but was “hesitant” when it came to unrest for Muammar Gadaffi and Libya, he said.

“Well, the key is we need clarity of conviction, which we’re not getting, and then we need absolute certainty when it comes to policy, which we’re not getting,” Huckabee told JointMedia News Service.

“In Iran, we never really said that [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad needs to step down,” Huckabee said. “Why not? He was killing his own people in the streets. How do you explain the duplicity of that?”

In his speech to the GA, Obama acknowledged Israel’s multitude of security concerns such as rockets being fired at houses, suicide bombs on buses, larger nations threatening to wipe Israel off the map, and “centuries of exile, persecution” for the Jewish people. He called the U.S. friendship with Israel “deep and enduring,” and America’s commitment to Israel’s security “unshakeable.” What was most refreshing to Jewish observers, however, was Obama’s direct statement against the Palestinian statehood bid.

“Ultimately, it is the Israelis and Palestinians—not us—who must reach agreement on the issues that divide them: on borders and security; on refugees and Jerusalem,” Obama said.

Former New York City mayor Ed Koch, who recently supported Republican (and eventual winner) Bob Turner over Democrat David Weprin for Anthony Weiner’s former seat in New York’s Ninth Congressional District, said in an interview with JointMedia News Service, “It was my purpose to send a message to President Obama,” regarding Obama’s actions such as calling for Israel to agree to pre-1967 lines with Palestinians. But a day after Obama’s GA speech, Koch changed his tune on the president.

“Either he didn’t need the message or he got the message because I thought that his speech at the United Nations was superb yesterday and met all of my expectations,” Koch told JointMedia News Service.

Prominent attorney Alan Dershowitz also said at the conference that Obama “got it right” with his GA speech.

Knesset Member Yuli Edelstein, Israel’s minister of information and diaspora, said in a press conference at the Simon Wiesenthal Center the same day that the president “helped the peace process and the understanding that we need negotiating.” Edelstein was pleased to hear Obama emphasize how there are “no shortcuts” to peace, and stressed that the American administration was “the first one to express dissatisfaction” with unilateral declaration of independence by the Palestinians.

Huckabee, however, noted at the Durban III counter-conference that Obama’s GA speech was just that—a speech. Calling Obama “a man who had no medicine,” Huckabee said the president’s “speechifying” alone can’t resolve the deep conflicts of the Middle East. He said Obama has “no concept of exactly what is at stake” in that region, citing Turner’s congressional victory in New York as a sign that the tide has been turning since 2008—when Obama received 78 percent of the American Jewish vote.

“The money and the votes are no longer going to be taken for granted in the Jewish community,” Huckabee said.

In an interview with JointMedia News Service, Dore Gold, former Israeli ambassador to the UN, had no direct comment on US diplomatic politics but shared the sentiment that Palestinian statehood wasn’t something that had merely snuck up on the US and the rest of the world. Gold said, “The Palestinians for a number of years have been contemplating abandoning negotiations and electing instead a unilateralist course, because they think they achieve their goals much more efficiently that way.”

“And now [the unilateralist course has] come to fruition, but the warning signs have been out there since 2008, even before Obama was elected president,” Gold said.

Jacob Kamaras is the Editor-in-Chief of JNS.

Posted on November 27, 2011 and filed under Features, Politics.