Obama: No shortcut to peace in Middle East
(AP) - President Barack Obama declared Wednesdaythat there could be no shortcut to peace between Israel and thePalestinians, as he sought to head off a looming diplomatic crisisfor the Middle East and U.S. policy there.
"Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at theU.N. - if it were that easy, it would have been accomplished bynow," the president said. "Ultimately, it is Israelis andPalestinians who must live side by side. Ultimately, it is Israelisand Palestinians - not us - who must reach agreement on the issuesthat divide them."
But in the speech before the U.N. General Assembly, Obamastopped short of directly calling on the Palestinians to drop theirplan to seek statehood recognition from the U.N. Security Council.U.S. officials were working furiously behind the scenes to persuadethe Palestinians. With the limits of U.S. influence on the moribundpeace process never more clear, Obama had no new demands for theIsraelis, either, beyond saying that both sides deserved their ownstate and security.
"Peace depends upon compromise among peoples who must livetogether long after our speeches are over, and our votes have beencounted," Obama said.
"That is the path to a Palestinian state."
The push by the Palestinians threatens to isolate Israel evenfurther, and divide the U.S. from allies in the Arab world whosupport the statehood resolution. Obama was to follow up his speechwith separate meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders as heseeks to coax both parties back to direct peace talks.
At the same time, U.S. officials are conceding that theyprobably cannot prevent Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas frommoving forward with a request to the U.N. Security Council for fullPalestinian membership. The Obama administration has pledged toveto any Palestinian statehood bid, arguing that only direct peacenegotiations, not a U.N. vote, would allow the Palestinians toachieve the benefits of statehood.
It's a much different outcome than Obama hoped for a year ago,when he wanted to herald by now a negotiated agreement between theIsraelis and the Palestinians. U.S. persuasion and pressure failedto achieve that result and now peace again looks distant. Obama putthe blame for that on Israel and the Palestinians.
"Despite extensive efforts by America and others, the partieshave not bridged their differences," Obama said.
Obama's remarks on Israel and the Palestinians came in a speechthat also swept up the convulsions of what Obama called "aremarkable year." He talked about the fall of Moammar Gadhafi'sdictatorship in Libya, the killing of al-Qaida leader Osama binLaden, the uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere, and theemergence of South Sudan as the world's newest nation.
"Something is happening in our world. The way things have beenis not the way they will be," Obama said. "The humiliating gripof corruption and tyranny is being pried open. Technology isputting power in the hands of the people."
Obama also spoke of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that heinherited and is winding down. "We are poised to end these warsfrom a position of strength," he said.
The president spoke of hope for the world, and a striving forfreedom in "a time of transformation."
Yet the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians looks asintractable as ever. Recognizing that Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas seems intentto proceed, Obama is expected to privately ask him to essentiallydrop the move for statehood recognition after Abbas delivers aformal letter of intent to the U.N. on Friday.
A new approach being considered would see the "quartet" ofMideast peace mediators - the U.S., European Union, United Nationsand Russia - issue a statement addressing both Palestinian andIsraeli concerns and setting a timetable for a return to thelong-stalled peace talks, officials close to the diplomatic talkssaid.
Israel would have to accept its pre-1967 borders with landexchanges as the basis for a two-state solution, and thePalestinians would have to recognize Israel's Jewish character ifthey were to reach a deal quickly, officials close to the talkssaid. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discussongoing diplomacy.