At President Obama’s United Nations General Assembly address today, much attention was paid to his overtures toward Iran. However, his pointed comments directed toward Israel – which placed resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on equal footing with Iran – were just as significant.

Obama made this equal footing clear from a foreign policy perspective when he said:

In the near term, America’s diplomatic efforts will focus on two particular issues: Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and the Arab- Israeli conflict.

When Obama came to the topic of Israel and Palestine, he first affirmed both peoples’ right to exist in secure, self-determining states. Then, he turned the speech personal:

Earlier this year, in Jerusalem, I was inspired by young Israelis who stood up for the belief that peace was necessary, just and possible. And I believe there’s a growing recognition within Israel that the occupation of the West Bank is tearing at the democratic fabric of the Jewish state.


On the same trip, I had the opportunity to meet with young Palestinians in Ramallah, whose ambition and incredible potential are matched by the pain they feel and having no firm place in the community of nations.

They are understandably cynical that real progress will ever be made, and they’re frustrated by their families enduring the daily indignity of occupation. But they, too, recognize that two states is the only real path to peace. Because just as the Palestinian people must not be displaced, the state of Israel is here to stay.

Some conservatives were apoplectic at Obama’s mention of the word ‘occupation,’ as if in uttering it, he had betrayed Israel in ways a true ally would not do.

However, it’s the word Obama did not say that was actually significant. For as the President implored the world community to join the push for peace between Israelis and Palestinians, Obama failed to mention the one word that is an obstacle to such peace more than anything: settlements.

It was heartening to hear Obama’s words today at the UNGA. However, they will remain just words if America continues to enable Israel’s self-destructive drive to gobble up all of the West Bank. See, the United States is the only country capable of compelling Israel to stop expanding its settlements and the appropriation of Palestinian land – a land that has become so bifurcated and segmented already as to make the formation of a state nearly impossible.

It is the United States which, as Israel has continued its illegal settlement enterprise anchoring the occupation, has continued to give Israel $3 billion annually.

I applaud Obama’s words today. But if Obama truly wants to achieve peace between Israel and Palestine, his administration will have to start by wielding the incredible influence it has over Israel in direct and clear ways.

Otherwise, Obama’s speech will end up being just another speech.


David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, now out from Oneworld Publications.

Follow him on Twitter @David_EHG.

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