“Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the U.N.,” Mr. Obama said, in an address before world leaders at the General Assembly. “If it were that easy, it would have been accomplished by now.”
Instead, Mr. Obama said, the international community should continue to push Israelis and Palestinians toward talks on the four intractable “final status” issues that have vexed peace negotiations since 1979: the borders of a Palestinian state, security for Israel, the status of Palestinian refugees who left or were forced to leave their homes in Israel, and the fate of Jerusalem, which both sides claim for their capital.
For Mr. Obama, the challenge in crafting the much-anticipated General Assembly address on Wednesday was how to address the incongruities of the administration’s position: the president who committed himself to making peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians a priority from Day one who still has not even been able to even get peace negotiations going after two and a half years; the president who opened the door to Palestinian state membership at the United Nations last year ending up threatening to veto that very membership; the president who was determined to get on the right side of Arab history ending up, in the views of many on the Arab street, on the wrong side of it on the Palestinian issue.
The Arab Spring quandary, in particular, has been enormously troublesome for Mr. Obama. White House officials say that he has long been keenly aware that he, like no other American president, stood as a potential beacon to the Arab street as the ultimate symbol of the hopes and rewards of democracy. But since he is, first and foremost, the president of the United States, he has had to put American interests first.
So Mr. Obama’s entire 47-minute address appeared, at times, an effort to thread the needle meant to balance his efforts in support of democratic movements against his efforts to stand behind Israel, America’s foremost ally. From the moment he stepped behind the podium and began talking, everything he said seemed directed to one point. “Mr. President, Mr. Secretary-General, fellow delegates, ladies and gentlemen: It is a great honor for me to be here today. I would like to talk to you about a subject that is at the heart of the United Nations—the pursuit of peace in an imperfect world.”
Mr. Obama called this year “a time of transformation.” This year alone, he said, “more individuals are claiming their universal right to live in freedom and dignity.”
He hailed the democratic movements in the Ivory Coast, in Tunisia, in South Sudan. Of Egypt, where President Hosni Mubarak fell after 30 years, Mr. Obama said, “we saw in those protesters the moral force of non-violence that has lit the world from Delhi to Warsaw; from Selma to South Arica—and we knew that change had...