Prime Minister Naftali Bennett mentioned the word Iran some 25 times in his debut address to the United Nations General Assembly, but failed to speak of the Palestinians, not even once.
It’s an omission that is consistent with his very clear philosophical stance since taking office in May, that he is opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state and has no interest in speaking with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
It’s one thing to make such statements in Israel or even in an interview with The New York Times. It is quite another, however, to do so at the UN General Assembly, where a majority of its members already recognize Palestine as a state and which is considered the Palestinian’s diplomatic home court.
But that doesn’t mean the UN doesn’t care about this issue or that a majority of member states don’t want to see it resolved.
US President Joe Biden gave the issue a passing nod, but at least he mentioned it. He stated that “we’re a long way from” the creation of a two-state resolution to the conflict, but “we must never allow ourselves to give up on the possibility of progress.”
Many of the Middle East leaders and foreign ministers who took the stage did speak of it – including Jordan, Qatar, Morocco, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. Jordan’s King Abdullah emphasized the importance of moving now toward a two-state resolution, stating the status quo was not sustainable.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also brought the matter up with Bennett when the two met on the sidelines of the UNGA.
Abbas who addressed the UNGA by video dedicated, of course, his entire speech to the conflict.
Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan immediately derided Abbas for promoting falsehoods against Israel and for demanding an Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines.
“Those who truly support peace and negotiations do not threaten delusional ultimatums from the UN platform as he did in his speech,” Erdan stated.
But at the end of the day, despite the language he used, Abbas put forward a one-year peace plan. He stated his parameters for that peace and called on the Quartet to broker it.
Whether one agrees with Abbas’s proposal or disagrees with it, at least it was an attempt to make progress.
Last year when former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to the UN, he called for peace talks with the Palestinians based on the two-state plan published by the former Trump administration.
“I will be ready and I’d be willing to negotiate on the basis of the Trump plan to end our conflict with the Palestinians once and for all,” Netanyahu told the UN.
This year, Bennett’s debut speech confirmed many things that the UN might have already expected: that he is a polished politician fluent in English, who can deliver an eloquent address.
Bennett in the last few months has made a splash on the international stage by holding talks with King Abdullah and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
He underscored his image as a leader who talks to the Arab world by holding a joint meeting in advance of his UN speech with Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani and UAE Minister of State in the Foreign Ministry Khalifa Shaheen Almarar.
But then he walked into the UNGA and gave the impression that he has no interest in peace with the Palestinians.
Netanyahu in touting the importance of the Abraham Accords in normalizing Israeli ties with the Arab world, starting with the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan, linked that initiative with the Palestinian conflict.
Bennett, in contrast, spoke of the Abraham Accords as an end unto itself. It was as if he believed that the Palestinian conflict could hang out there in suspended space while Israelis and Palestinians peacefully go about their lives.
In September there was a terror attack in Jerusalem, and West Bank violence has spiked since May. The price of ignoring the conflict has gotten higher this year, not lower.
Yet Bennett spoke to the UN as if by simply ignoring the Palestinians he could will them away.
After addressing the UN, Bennett spoke with the Jewish Federations of North America about the importance of “facing reality” and described Israel as a “light house in a stormy sea.”
But the reality the UN wanted to hear him talk about was the Palestinians and how he plans to help solve that conflict. His failure to do so not just in the first forum but in all forums is branding him as a man who refuses peace, not one who seeks it.
Until Bennett can address the Palestinian conflict, the international community is more likely to see Israel as the cause of the storm than the beacon that leads the way to a peaceful shore.