SIDEBAR to "The 66th UN General Assembly: If You Were There"
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JointMedia News Service interviewed leading members of the Israeli government, as well as top analysts in the field of Israeli policy, to get a sense of their reaction to the UN General Assembly speeches delivered by Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Abbas.
Ron Prosor, Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, emphasized that the road to peace would be a lengthy one, “The most important thing here to understand is that there can be no short cuts to peace, peace can only be achieved in direct negotiations between both sides. By definition, peace is an agreement, it cannot be imposed by the outside, and the Palestinians, instead of speech making, should go back to peace making.”
Yuli Edelstein, Israel’s Minister of Information and Diaspora, sat at Israel’s table in the General Assembly hall Friday along with Foreign Minister Lieberman. “I think that Abbas’ speech was a kind of time machine taking us back about 30 years,” he told JointMedia News Service, “Netanyahu’s speech was the speech of a strong leader who’s trying to make peace. This was the whole difference and I think it was so obvious it was even difficult to understand how exactly you can bridge the gaps in this situation, because Abbas showed again that he lives in the past, and thinks that by lies he can win.” Edelstein further emphasized that although Netanyahu made clear the historic roots of the Jewish people in Israel, “the message of peace, the message of dialogue, the message of negotiations was there as opposed to Abbas.”
Alan Dershowitz, the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, watched both speeches from the visitor’s gallery, sitting next to Elie Wiesel. Speaking to JointMedia News Service, Dershowitz largely aligned with Edelstein’s take: “Abbas demanded a return to the status quo, basically borders that would include the kotel, the access route to the Hebrew University, and the Jewish quarter. Obviously the Abbas proposal is a non-starter for peace, and the Netanyahu proposal does lead us forward to peace. I thought there was one talk that promoted peace and one talk that thought that peace could come from the United Nations where it can’t.”
“Abbas’ speech was a classic example of a Palestinian denial of history,” said Yossi Klein Halevi, a Fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute, in an interview with JNS. Halevi described this denial as taking two forms: first, “denying any Palestinian responsibility for maintaining the conflict” and placing the onus entirely on Israel, and secondly, “Abbas wiped out of his speech any Jewish connection to the land of Israel.”
Halevi illustrated this second point by highlighting a specific part of Abbas’ address, “for me the most outrageous line of his outrageous speech was when he told the delegates he came from the holy land where Mohammad rose to heaven and where Jesus was born…in other words the holy land is holy only to Muslims and Christians.”
Halevi explained that Abbas completed his doctorate in Moscow in the 1970s in the study of holocaust denial, and has “remained in his soul a denier of Jewish history.”
As to the effect of the UN bid overall, Halevi says that it will serve first to place more pressure on Israel, and if successful will allow greater access to international agencies, but most importantly, it puts the United States in an awkward position. “The United States is in an embarrassing position where it has to choose between Israel and integrating [the United States] into the world community,” Halevi said, “The Palestinians are making Israel an embarrassment for Obama. The pressure is intended to create a wedge between Obama and Israel.”
So, what should the policy of the Israeli government be following Abbas’ address? Says Halevi, “[Netanyahu] needs to say that his government accepts what previous Israeli governments have accepted, which is the 67 borders as a basis for negotiations. If he says that, it will not bring peace, because the Palestinian leadership is not prepared to offer Israel two essential concessions we will require which are recognizing Israel as a Jewish state and confining the right of return. Netanyahu nevertheless needs to affirm the principle of the 67 borders to put the onus of blame back where it belongs, which is on the Palestinians.”
—With reporting by Jacob Kamaras
Masha Rifkin is the Managing Editor of JNS.