Friday, September 24, 2010

Obama At the UN.

Obama has used a speech at the United Nations to appeal to Netanyahu's government to extend its moratorium on settlement building in the occupied West Bank.

"Israel's settlement moratorium has made a difference on the ground, and improved the atmosphere for talks. ... 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."
He also held out a hand to Iran, even as Ahmadinejad displayed an insanity which prompted a walkout.

He spoke of cynics who doubt that peace can be achieved between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and I must admit that I am of their number.

I would love nothing more than for Obama to prove me completely wrong. But I simply can't see a way for Netanyahu to deliver peace whilst leading the coalition which he currently leads.

But the speech was apparently only the most visible place where pressure was being applied. Behind the scenes many states were pushing Obama's vision.

The US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, and the US Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, were engaged in numerous one-to-one discussions behind the scenes at the UN.

European diplomats were also busy, as well as the British foreign secretary, William Hague, who talked to the Israeli foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, by phone before coming to New York.

Netanyahu's problem is that he must find a way to avoid angering the US, the main diplomatic and financial backer of Israel, while holding together the coalition over which he presides, and which is weighted towards pro-settler parties.

"No one is putting money on which way this will go," a western diplomat said.

I admire Obama's optimism, and I am genuinely in awe that he will put his presidency on the line in this way. He appears to be determined to play the cards which he has been dealt. Had the Likud Party lost the election in Israel, Obama's task would be ten times easier. And there's a part of me, were I in his position, that would have been tempted to wait for the collapse of the Netanyahu coalition before attempting the gargantuan task of overcoming the sixty years of animosity which fuel that conflict.

But he is pushing on, determined to attempt to make peace, even whilst Israel is represented by a coalition which does not believe in what Obama is attempting to do.

I have an admiration for that, even as I doubt that Netanyahu's government will ever agree to a meaningful peace agreement.

And Obama is to be applauded for pushing on, especially as his chances of success appear so slight.

The irony here is that it was his optimism which inspired so many of us during his campaign. And he continues to display it, even as some of his supporters - like myself - find themselves beginning to harbour doubts, especially when it comes to the dispute between Israel and Palestine and Netanyahu's ability to deliver his coalition to the side of peace.

But Obama, as always, has a way of coming up with a turn of phrase which makes doubters like myself feel ashamed.
This future will not be easy to reach. It will not come without setbacks, nor will it be quickly claimed. But the founding of the United Nations itself is a testament to human progress. Remember, in times that were far more trying than our own, our predecessors chose the hope of unity over the ease of division. And made a promise to future generations that the dignity and equality of human beings would be our common cause. It falls to us to fulfil that promise. And, though we will be met by dark forces that will test out resolve, Americans have always had cause to believe that we can choose a better history.
That's the optimism which he ignited during his election campaign, and that is the fire which he is now demanding we do not allow to be extinguished.

He never, ever, promised that it was going to be easy; so cynics like myself should cut him some slack.

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