Barack Obama’s appearance at the United Nations was an unmitigated disaster.
Like a slow-motion train wreck, one that everyone knew was coming months ago, the president succumbed shamelessly to the domestic political pressure from the Israel lobby, its Republican party allies, and the menacing Benjamin Netanyahu, the thuggish prime minister of Israel. In one speech, Obama smashed to pieces every hopeful speech, false-start peace initiative and half-hearted initiative he’s tried since taking office. The appointment of George Mitchell as Middle East peace envoy? Dead. The June 2009, speech in Cairo aimed at rebuilding ties to the Arab and Muslim world? Dead. His feckless call for Israel to stop building illegal settlements on Palestinian land under occupation by Israel’s brutish army and a vast militia of armed, fanatical settlers? Dead. His weak-kneed call for a deal between Israel and Palestine based on the 1967 borders? Dead as a doornail.
It’s impossible to say, at this stage, how bad the damage will be. At the very least, the United States has ceded all leadership in the peace process. The impact in the Middle East will be enormous, not least among the Egyptian revolutionaries and other leaders of the Arab Spring who, already cynical and hostile to American policy on Israel, will now write off Washington completely, and turn to Europe, Russia and China. Saudi Arabia, whose former ambassador to the United States, Prince Turki, has been increasingly vocal in warning the United States that the Saudis will break with Washington, will step in to pick up the pieces now if the craven members of the US Congress cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority.
In his speech, in which Obama said nary a word about Palestinian suffering, nor a word about illegal Israeli expansion and settlements, he said this:
“Let us be honest with ourselves: Israel is surrounded by neighbors that have waged repeated wars against it. Israel’s citizens have been killed by rockets fired at their houses and suicide bombs on their buses. Israel’s children come of age knowing that throughout the region, other children are taught to hate them. Israel, a small country of less than eight million people, look out at a world where leaders of much larger nations threaten to wipe it off of the map. The Jewish people carry the burden of centuries of exile and persecution, and fresh memories of knowing that six million people were killed simply because of who they are. Those are facts. They cannot be denied.”
Netanyahu, the boorish piece of muscle who runs Israel, called Obama’s speech a “badge of honor.” According to news reports, though, the entire UN General Assembly sat on its hands during Obama’s speech, not applauding once. Mahmoud Abbas, the PA president, watched glumly, his head in his hands.