Obama urges world to support Middle East peace process

Obama urges world to support Middle East peace process

US President Barack Obama is exhorting the world to unite around the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, challenging the United Nations to support an agreement that would create an independent Palestine and a secure Israel in a year's time.

In a speech to the annual session of the UN General Assembly later today, Obama will call on world leaders to cast aside decades of division over the conflict, overcome cynicism and prove their support for a settlement to be reached by the two sides that his administration is now pushing against long odds.

Without a deal, he will say, "more blood will be shed" and "this Holy Land will remain a symbol of our differences, instead of our common humanity", according to portions of the text released by the White House in advance of the speech.

"If an agreement is not reached, Palestinians will never know the pride and dignity that comes with their own state," he says. "Israelis will never know the certainty and security that comes with sovereign and stable neighbours who are committed to coexistence."

The excerpts dealt only with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and made no mention of other foreign policy initiatives that Obama is expected to champion in his full remarks.

The emphasis underscored the urgency of overcoming hurdles that he has met less than a month after relaunching direct negotiations between the parties.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is threatening to walk out of the talks if Israel does not extend a slowdown on construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank that is set to expire next week.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he will not extend that partial freeze.

The looming expiration appears to have stalled the negotiations, which got under way in early September in Washington between Abbas and Netanyahu and then moved to a second round in Egypt and in Jerusalem last week.

That second round ended inconclusively with little visible progress and without an expected announcement of a third session.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the administration's special Middle East peace envoy George Mitchell have been meeting with officials from both sides and other interested parties this week in New York to press the agenda forward but seem to have made little headway.

So, faced with the real possibility of the collapse of negotiations, Obama is imploring the international community to get behind the idea of peace and forget age-old alliances to one side or the other.

"Those of us who are friends of Israel must understand that true security for the Jewish state requires an independent Palestine," he will say.

"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."

Israel, along with numerous US administrations, has long accused the United Nations of being a forum for anti-Israeli activity.

Obama laments that many member states have allowed the institution to become an echo chamber of criticism and condemnation without addressing the real need for peace or its requirements.

"Many in this hall count themselves as friends of the Palestinians," he was to say. "But these pledges must now be supported by deeds."

Among those deeds are providing financial support from Arab states to the Palestinian Authority and preparing those in Muslim world for an eventual deal that will see their countries at peace with Israel.

Obama was to urge the UN in its 60th year to look beyond past Middle East peace failures and get on with the task at hand.

"We can come back here, next year, as we have for the last 60, and make long speeches about it," he will say. "We can read familiar lists of grievances. We can table the same resolutions. We can further empower the forces of rejectionism and hate.

"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 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 state of Palestine, living in peace with Israel."

Obama's speech was his second to the world body and comes amid a three-day UN-dominated trip to New York, where the president will also meet privately with the leaders of China, Japan, Colombia, Azerbaijan and Kyrgyzstan.

In addition, he will host Southeast Asian leaders and attend a meeting aimed at preventing renewed civil war in Sudan.

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