Amidst this upheaval, we have been persistent in our pursuit of peace. Last year, I pledged my best efforts to support the goal of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security, as part of a comprehensive peace between Israel and all of its neighbors. We have travelled a winding road over the last twelve months, with few peaks and many valleys. But this month, I am pleased that we have pursued direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians in Washington, Sharm el-Sheikh and Jerusalem.
Now, many are pessimistic about this process. The cynics say that Israelis and Palestinians are too distrustful of each other, and too divided internally, to forge lasting peace. Rejectionists on both sides will try to disrupt the process, with bitter words and with bombs. Some say that the gaps between the parties are too big; the potential for talks to break down is too great; and that after decades of failure, peace is simply not possible.
But consider the alternative. If an agreement is not reached, Palestinians will never know the pride and dignity that comes with their own state. 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.
I refuse to accept that future. We all have a choice to make. And each of us must choose the path of peace. That responsibility begins with the parties themselves, who must answer the call of history. Earlier this month, at the White House, I was struck by the words of both the Israeli and Palestinian leaders. Prime Minister Netanyahu said, "I came here today to find an historic compromise that will enable both people to live in peace, security, and dignity." President Abbas said, "We will spare no effort and we will work diligently and tirelessly to ensure these negotiations achieve their cause."
These words must be followed by action, and I believe that both leaders have the courage to do so. But the road that they have to travel is difficult, which is why I call upon Israelis and Palestinians - and the world - to rally behind the goal that these leaders share. We know there will be tests along the way, and that one is fast approaching. Israel's settlement moratorium 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. We also believe that talks should press on until completed. Now is the time for the parties to help each other overcome this obstacle. Now is the time to build the trust - and provide the time - for substantial progress to be made. Now is the time for this opportunity to be seized, so that it doesn't slip away.
Peace must be made by Israelis and Palestinians, but each of us has a responsibility to do our part as well. Those of us who are 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. And those of us who are friends of the Palestinians must understand that the rights of the Palestinian people will be won only through peaceful means - including genuine reconciliation with a secure Israel.
Many in this hall count themselves as friends of the Palestinians. But these pledges must now be supported by deeds. Those who have 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.
After thousands of years, Jews and Arabs are not strangers in a strange land. And after sixty years in the community of nations, 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. And 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.
The conflict between Israelis and Arabs is as old as this institution. And we can come back here, next year, as we have for the last sixty, and make long speeches about it. We can read familiar lists of grievances. We can table the same resolutions. We can further empower the forces of rejectionism and hate. We can waste more time by carrying forward an argument that will not help a single Israeli or Palestinian child achieve a better life. We can do that.
Or, we can say that this time will be different - that this time we will not let terror, or turbulence, or posturing, or petty politics stand in the way. This time, we will think not of ourselves, but of the young girl in Gaza who wants to have no ceiling on her dreams, or the young boy in Sderot who wants to sleep without the nightmare of rocket fire. This time, we should draw upon the teachings of tolerance that lie at the heart of three great religions that see Jerusalem's soil as sacred. This time we should reach for what's best within ourselves. If we do, when we come back here next year, we can have an agreement that will lead to a new member of the United Nations - an independent, sovereign state of Palestine, living in peace with Israel.
CNN, seeking clarification on the delegation's absence, got this:
Israel says its U.N. delegation was not able to attend the U.N. General Assembly session on Thursday because of the observance of Sukkot, a Jewish holiday.
"Due to the overwhelming number of calls and e-mails that we are receiving, even though it is the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, we feel that it is necessary to release the following statement," the Israeli consulate in New York said.
The delegation from Israel was reported by CNN, the Gateway Pundit and others of "boycotting" the speech.
Jason Ditz, writing at Antiwar.com, comments on the official Israeli explanation:
Officially the Israeli government denies that this was an organized boycott and insists the absence of their delegation was planned well in advance, and was related to the relatively minor Jewish holiday of Sukkot. The weeklong holiday does not appear to have traditionally meant Israeli officially snubbing major international events, however.
Moreover President Obama’s speech sparked no small level of outrage among top Israeli officials, and a number of Israel’s ruling coalition MPs made public comments in condemnation of the president and the speech late last night. This is only adding fuel to the belief by many that the snub was about the speech and not the holiday.
AIPAC spokesmen angrily denied this belief, however, and insisted that it was a “malicious” lie against Israel. The empty chairs seem to remain an issue for many, however.
Any of us who were watching news items Thursday on this, and on reactions to the September 22nd release of the UN Human Rights Council's "Report of the international fact-finding mission to investigate violations of international law, including international humanitarian and human rights law, resulting from the Israeli attacks on the flotilla of ships carrying humanitarian assistance," (PDF) observed a very busy Israeli UN delegation all day long. So the concern about the delegation's absence is in no way a "malicious lie against Israel."
Israeli Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, was launching "A PR war on the UN," all day long, holiday or not:
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has ordered the establishment of a "command post" in New York in an effort to counter a damning United Nations report on Israel's flotilla raid which left nine people dead.
The report, drafted by the UN Human Rights Council, charged that IDF soldiers executed Turkish activists on board a Gaza-bound vessel by firing at them from close range.
Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, who is currently in New York, set up the command post along with Ambassador to the UN Meron Reuben and Consul General Ido Aharoni in order to coordinate Israel's diplomatic and PR activity in response to the report.
As of Thursday morning, Israeli officials are attempting to initiate a coordinated response by all Jewish organizations to condemn the UN report. All Israeli emissaries in North America had been briefed on their next moves vis-à-vis the media and foreign diplomats.
And, all day long, Israeli activists were working to spring traitor Jonathan Pollard from a US prison, in spite of his treachery having assuredly killed many U.S. intelligence assets in the USSR at a crucial point in the Cold War:
The Obama administration is publicly ignoring a reported offer from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to extend a settlements freeze in exchange for the release of Jonathan Pollard, the convicted Israeli spy.
Pressure to release Pollard, serving a life sentence since 1987 for providing thousands of secret documents to Israel, arises regularly, spurred by Pollard’s wife Esther and right-wing parties in Jerusalem.
But an even more powerful backlash from national security officials in Washington has repeatedly derailed the idea. Pollard also sold secrets to South Africa and advertised his services to Pakistan, they point out, while Israel used some of the documents he gave them as barter for favors from Moscow.
That report is from the beginning of the week. By late Thursday, during the "holiday," the week-long efforts behind the scenes by the Israel lobby were perhaps beginning to pay off:
Several United States congressmen have signed a petition calling on U.S. President Barack Obama to pardon Jonathan Pollard, jailed in the U.S. for over 25 years for spying, in order to advance the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported on Thursday.
Pollard, a former civilian intelligence analyst, was sentenced to life in prison in 1987 on charges of spying on the U.S. for Israel.
A statement released by Democratic Representative Barney Frank "notes the positive impact that a grant of clemency would have in Israel, as a strong indication of the goodwill of our nation towards Israel and the Israeli people."
"This would be particularly helpful at a time when the Israeli nation faces difficult decisions in its long-standing effort to secure peace with its neighbors," Frank's office continued in the statement.
Direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians will face the first major hurdle in the next few days as Israel's moratorium on construction in West Bank settlements is set to expire. Reports have circulated that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking Pollard's release in order to pacify the settler movement if he extends the moratorium.
Let me see if I can somehow get this straight. The Israeli UN delegation fails to show up on what may have been the most important speech given in decades by a US president on a keystone obstacle to Middle East peace, claiming it is a "religious holiday." During that religious holiday, they set up a "War room" in the USA to battle public perception of a UN document cataloging Israeli war crimes that happened less than four months ago. One of these crimes was the cold-blooded murder of a US citizen.
During that same "holiday" the Israeli government used every tool at its disposal to spring a spy who cost us billions, and whose stolen and then sold secrets led to the deaths of Russian anti-communists. The promise to us, should we spring the traitor, is a twelve-week long moratorium to the expansion of settlements that our country views as clearly illegal. Given that there really hasn't been a settlement expansion freeze, and that the Obama administration knows this meme to be a cynical fabrication, why does Rep. Frank even put his name down on a scrap of paper that promoted the lie's further propagation?
To get back to this seeming overlap of the definitions of chutzpah and ingratitude, how much does Obama or any president for that matter, have to do for Israel to not be subjected to the most offensive slurs one might possibly imagine from a so-called "ally"?