Reporting Marcia Kramer
NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The hopes for Palestinian statehood received a one-two punch at the United Nations on Wednesday with President Barack Obama saying no to statehood without direct negotiations and the French president proposing a timetable to restart the talks, giving the Israelis and Palestinians one year to reach an agreement.
“Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the UN. If it were that easy, it would have been accomplished by now,” President Obama said.
Obama said in public what he is also saying in private — that a Palestinian state can only be achieved by the Israelis and Palestinians going to the bargaining table and tackling the hard questions that face them. But he stopped short of directly calling on the Palestinians to drop their plan to seek statehood recognition from the UN Security Council.
“Each side has legitimate aspirations and that’s part of what makes peace hard. And the deadlock will only be broken when each side learned to stand in each others’ shoes,” Obama said.
The backroom strategy of the Americans and their allies, sources say, was to try and contain the fallout from the Palestinians’ provocative move by urging Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas not to push for an actual vote in the Security Council, something the U.S. will have to veto.
Abbas reportedly gave in, telling President Obama at their meeting Wednesday that although he will ask the UN for statehood, he will not demand an immediate vote. That means the U.S. will continue to give the Palestinians the $450 million in annual aid they get from us, but it’s unclear if this will mean more anti-American sentiment in the Arab world.
“We will give some time for the Security Council to consider first our full membership before heading to the General Assembly,” senior Fatah Party official Nabile Shaath said.
“President Abbas has already met with Ban Ki-Moon. The Secretary-General of the United Nations, and told him that on Friday he would be submitting to him a letter asking for Security Council discussion and approval.”
“Let us cease our endless debates on the parameters and let us begin negotiations and adopt a precise and ambitious timetable,” French President Nicholas Sarkozy said.
French strategy, in concert with the Americans, is to entice the Palestinians back to the bargaining table by proposing a fast-track one-year timetable for negotiations that result in Palestinian statehood.
“Let’s have one month to resume discussions, six months to find agreement on borders and security, one year to reach definitive agreement,” Sarkozy said.
In the West Bank on Wednesday, there were new clashes, with Palestinians hurling rocks at Israeli soldiers. In another village hundreds of Israeli settlers marched in protest, and in Ramallah thousands crowded streets singing and waving flags to show their support for statehood.
With the specter of the U.S. having to veto the Palestinian request for statehood seemingly averted, at least for now, Obama had other fish to fry, like restoring the trust of some American Jews as he seeks re-election. He used the UN platform to help.
“Any lasting peace must acknowledge the very real security concerns that Israel faces every single day,” Obama said. “Israel’s citizens have been killed by rockets fired at their houses and suicide bombs on their buses.”
Obama, first during his speech at the UN and again at a private meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, sought to reassure cynical members of the American Jewish community that he will not end America’s historic alliance with the Jewish state.
“America’s commitment to Israel will never waver and that our pursuit of a just and lasting peace is one that is not only compatible but we think puts Israel’s security at the forefront,” Obama said.
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Candidate Obama is under intense pressure from a number of Republican presidential contenders to show Israel more love. Texas Gov. Rick Perry and others are trying to paint the president’s Middle East policy as an insult to Israel and overly sympathetic to the Palestinians, which they regard as harboring terrorist elements.
And so, President Obama was probably thrilled to receive praise from Netanyahu for refusing to rubber stamp the Palestinians’ demand for statehood.
“I think this is a badge of honor and I want to thank you for wearing that badge of honor,” Netanyahu said.
Of course, in a careful balancing act, the president didn’t outright dismiss the Palestinians. He said he wants to see a Palestinian state, too.
“We seek a future where Palestinians live in a sovereign state of their own with no limit to what they can achieve,” Obama said.
What do you think of the U.S. stance regarding the Palestine U.N. petition? Sound off in our comments section below…