The President to the UN General Assembly: "We Can Say That This Time Will Be Different"

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At the beginning of the President’s speech this morning to the United Nations General Assembly, the President spoke first of the great challenges facing America – an economy only now being brought back from the brink of total disaster, and defeating Al Qaeda.  He spoke of what’s been done on both fronts, from international cooperation on financial stability, to withdrawal from Iraq and refocusing on Afghanistan – “There is much to show for our efforts, even as there is much more work to be done,” he said.  He spoke also about the ongoing international commitment to hold Iran accountable on its nuclear program.  And he concluded his speech with a focus on human rights, a forceful denunciation of tyranny, and a call for the world to come together for global development as he described yesterday -- "The world that America seeks is not one we can build on our own," he said.

But the bulk of his speech was on a topic that saw a spark of hope a few weeks ago here at the White House:

And we all have a choice to make.  Each of us must choose the path of peace.  Of course, that responsibility begins with the parties themselves, who must answer the call of history.  Earlier this month at the White House, I was struck by the words of both the Israeli and Palestinian leaders.  Prime Minister Netanyahu said, “I came here today to find a historic compromise that will enable both people to live in peace, security, and dignity.”  And President Abbas said, “We will spare no effort and we will work diligently and tirelessly to ensure these negotiations achieve their cause.”

These words must now be followed by action and I believe that both leaders have the courage to do so.  But the road that they have to travel is exceedingly difficult, which is why I call upon Israelis and Palestinians -- and the world -- to rally behind the goal that these leaders now share.  We know that there will be tests along the way and that one test is fast approaching.  Israel’s settlement moratorium has made a difference on the ground and improved the atmosphere for talks. 

And our position on this issue is well known.  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.  Now is the time to build the trust -- and provide the time -- for substantial progress to be made.  Now is the time for this opportunity to be seized, so that it does not slip away.

Now, peace must be made by Israelis and Palestinians, but each of us has a responsibility to do our part as well.  Those of us who are friends of Israel must understand that true security for the Jewish state requires an independent Palestine -- one that allows the Palestinian people to live with dignity and opportunity.  And those of us who are friends of the Palestinians must understand that the rights of the Palestinian people will be won only through peaceful means -- including genuine reconciliation with a secure Israel.

I know many in this hall count themselves as friends of the Palestinians.  But these pledges of friendship must now be supported by deeds.  Those who have signed on to the Arab Peace Initiative should seize this opportunity to make it real by taking tangible steps towards the normalization that it promises Israel. 

And those who speak on behalf of Palestinian self-government should help the Palestinian Authority politically and financially, and in doing so help the Palestinians build the institutions of their state. 

Those who long to see an independent Palestine must also stop trying to tear down Israel.  After thousands of years, Jews and Arabs are not strangers in a strange land.  After 60 years in the community of nations, Israel’s existence must not be a subject for debate.

Israel is a sovereign state, and the historic homeland of the Jewish people.  It should be clear to all that efforts to chip away at Israel’s legitimacy will only be met by the unshakeable opposition of the United States.  And efforts to threaten or kill Israelis will do nothing to help the Palestinian people.  The slaughter of innocent Israelis is not resistance -- it’s injustice.  And make no mistake:  The courage of a man like President Abbas, who stands up for his people in front of the world under very difficult circumstances, is far greater than those who fire rockets at innocent women and children.

The conflict between Israelis and Arabs is as old as this institution.  And we can come back here next year, as we have for the last 60 years, and make long speeches about it.  We can read familiar lists of grievances.  We can table the same resolutions.  We can further empower the forces of rejectionism and hate.  And we can waste more time by carrying forward an argument that will not help a single Israeli or Palestinian child achieve a better life.  We can do that. 

Or, we can say that this time will be different -- that this time we will not let terror, or turbulence, or posturing, or petty politics stand in the way.  This time, we will think not of ourselves, but of the young girl in Gaza who wants to have no ceiling on her dreams, or the young boy in Sderot who wants to sleep without the nightmare of rocket fire.

This time, we should draw upon the teachings of tolerance that lie at the heart of three great religions that see Jerusalem’s soil as sacred.  This time we should reach for what’s best within ourselves.  If we do, when we come back here next year, we can have an agreement that will lead to a new member of the United Nations -- an independent, sovereign state of Palestine, living in peace with Israel.  (Applause.)

President Barack Obama Addresses the 65th session of the United Nations General Assembly

President Barack Obama addresses the 65th session of the United Nations General Assembly at United Nations headquarters September 23, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

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