ABC News' Jake Tapper reports:
NEW YORK, NY -- President Obama challenged delegates at the United Nations General Assembly today to prove their sincerity and support the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
“Many in this hall count themselves as friends of the Palestinians,” he said, “but these pledges must now be supported by deeds.”
In particular, the president said, Arab nations that signed on to the Arab Peace Initiative “should seize this opportunity to make it real by taking tangible steps toward the normalization that it promises Israel. Those who speak out for Palestinian self-government should help the Palestinian Authority politically and financially, and – in so doing – help the Palestinians build the institutions of their state. And those who long to see an independent Palestine rise must stop trying to tear Israel down.”
The Israelis and Palestinians have been engaging in direct negotiations in Washington, DC, Sharm el-Sheikh, and Jerusalem.
The president praised Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, saying “efforts to threaten or kill Israelis will do nothing to help the Palestinian people – the slaughter of innocent Israelis is not resistance, it is injustice. Make no mistake: the courage of a man like President Abbas – who stands up for his people in front of the world – is far greater than those who fire rockets at innocent women and children.” Friends of the Palestinians, he said, “must understand that the rights of the Palestinian people will be won only through peaceful means – including genuine reconciliation with a secure Israel.”
Contrary to the views of many Arab nations as well as Hamas, the president said that after sixty years “Israel’s existence must not be a subject for debate. Israel is a sovereign state, and the historic homeland of the Jewish people. It should be clear to all that efforts to chip away at Israel’s legitimacy will only be met by the unshakeable opposition of the United States.”
Mr. Obama also called on Israel to continue its moratorium on new settlements, set to expire this month, saying the housing freeze “has made a difference on the ground, and improved the atmosphere for talks. Our position on this issue is well known. We believe that the moratorium should be extended.” He said friends of Israel “must understand that true security for the Jewish state requires an independent Palestine – one that allows the Palestinian people to live with dignity and opportunity.”
The Israeli delegation was not present, today being the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, a pilgrimage and harvest festival outlined in the book of Leviticus.
Karean Peretz, a spokeswoman for the Israeli Mission to the UN, said the delegation informed other countries in advance that Isaraeli officials would not be attending today's events because of the Jewish holiday.
President Obama painted a stark picture if the process fails. “If an agreement is not reached, Palestinians will never know the pride and dignity that comes with their own state,” he said. “Israelis will never know the certainty and security that comes with sovereign and stable neighbors who are committed to co-existence. The hard realities of demography will take hold. More blood will be shed. This Holy Land will remain a symbol of our differences, instead of our common humanity.”
The president also addressed other issues in his speech, asserting that he “had no greater focus as President than rescuing our economy from potential catastrophe,” and listing other foreign policy efforts, including fighting al Qaeda more effectively, in his view, “winding down the war in Iraq,” pushing to secure all of the world’s vulnerable nuclear materials, strengthening the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, working to stop Iran’s nuclear program, and confronting climate change.
Mr. Obama said that “the strongest foundation for human progress lies in open economies, open societies, and open governments. To put it simply: democracy, more than any other form of government, delivers for our citizens. And that truth will only grow stronger in a world where the borders between nations are blurred.”