The Middle East has been center stage at the United Nations General Assembly this week, with speeches about the anti-U.S. uprisings throughout the region, Iran's nuclear ambitions, the Palestinians' UN status and the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Below are overviews of the speeches delivered by President Barack Obama, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
United States – Tuesday, September 25President Obama mentioned the recent anti-western uprisings throughout the Middle East and the U.S. Ambassador who was killed. He condemned the Islamophobia and bigotry that fomented the violence, but emphasized the U.S.'s commitment to free speech and that there is never a justification or excuse for killing innocent people.
The President also reiterated that "a nuclear-armed Iran is not a challenge that can be contained" and urged the Israelis and Palestinians to pursue peace.
Among Israelis and Palestinians, the future must not belong to those who turn their backs on the prospect of peace. Let us leave behind those who thrive on conflict, and those who reject the right of Israel to exist. The road is hard but the destination is clear – a secure, Jewish state of Israel; and an independent, prosperous Palestine. Understanding that such a peace must come through a just agreement between the parties, America will walk alongside all who are prepared to make that journey.
Watch or read President Obama's full speech.
Iran – Wednesday, September 26Both Israel and the United States boycotted President Ahmadinejad's speech due to its scheduling on Yom Kippur. The bulk of the speech pontificated on abstract ideals of human rights and international diplomacy. However, the speech did included some of the usual vitriol—including condemnations of "the old and new colonialism", world Zionism's control over the media, and the "continued threat by the uncivilized Zionists to resort to military action against our great nation."
Watch or read President Ahmadinejad's full speech.
Earlier in the week, Israel's Ambassador Ron Prosor walked out of a meeting when Ahmadinejad spoke about the rule of law, claimed that the Jewish people have no roots in Israel, and denied Iran's nuclear ambitions and assistance to President Assad of Syria.
Palestinian Authority – Thursday, September 27President Abbas stated that the Palestinians will continue efforts to obtain full UN membership and are pursing a resolution to become a non-member state—which would grant it access to UN agencies like the International Criminal Court.
Throughout, he accused Israel of being a racist occupying power and charged that it has rejected the two-State solution. Despite statements reaffirming the Palestinians' commitment to peace and condemnation of violence, Abbas continued to accuse Israeli citizens and the government of perpetuating terrorism and inciting religious conflict—neglecting any direct mention of Hamas or Palestinian attacks.
Watch or read President Abbas' full speech.
Abbas also continuously mentioned the Palestinian refugees and Al-Nakba, the "Day of the Catastrophe" which occurred with the creation of Israel. In response to this often disussed theme, last week Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, Israeli UN Ambassador Ron Prosor, World Jewish Congress, and Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations sponsored an event at the UN drawing attention to the Jewish refugees from Arab countries. Representatives from Hadassah's United Nations Team were in attendance. Click here to watch or read Ambassador Ron Prosor's speech.
Israel – Thursday, September 27Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke about Israel's accomplishments, as a champion for women's rights, a leader in scientific advancement, and an example of pluralism—where doctors treat Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs alongside each other in the same wards.
He responded to President Abbas' speech directly, stating "We won't solve our conflict with libelous speeches at the UN" and "We won't solve our conflict with unilateral declarations of statehood." He also expressed appreciation to President Obama for his statements that containing a nuclear-armed Iran was not an option.
With the use of a diagram, Netanyahu laid out the process for creating a nuclear bomb and explained Iran's continued progress towards that goal. He emphasized that relying solely on sanctions will only give Iran more time and that a credible red line is needed to ensure that Iran can never enrich enough uranium for weapons. "I believe that faced with a clear red line, Iran will back down," he said. "This will give more time for sanctions and diplomacy to convince Iran to dismantle its nuclear weapons program altogether." Watch or read Prime Minister Netanyahu's full speech.