Sarkozy calls Netanyahu ‘a liar’ in private conversation with Obama


French President Nicolas Sarkozy branded Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “a liar” in a private conversation with U.S. President Barack Obama that was accidentally broadcast to journalists during last week’s G20 summit in Cannes.

“I cannot bear Netanyahu, he’s a liar,” Sarkozy told Obama, unaware that the microphones in their meeting room had been switched on, enabling reporters in a separate location to listen in to a simultaneous translation.

“You’re fed up with him, but I have to deal with him even more often than you,” Obama replied, according to the French interpreter.

The technical gaffe is likely to cause great embarrassment to all three leaders as they look to work together to intensify international pressure on Iran over its nuclear ambitions.

The conversation was not initially reported by the small group of journalists who overheard it because it was considered private and off-the-record. But the comments have since emerged on French websites and can be confirmed by Reuters.

White House press secretary Jay Carney declined to comment on the conversation when asked by reporters traveling with Obama to an event in Philadelphia.

Obama’s apparent failure to defend Netanyahu is likely to be leapt on by his Republican foes, who are looking to unseat him in next year’s presidential election and have portrayed him as hostile to Israel, Washington’s closest ally in the region.

Pushing Netanyahu risks alienating Israel’s strong base of support among the U.S. public and in Congress.

Netanyahu’s office declined to comment, but one of his deputies, Vice Premier Silvan Shalom, played down the episode.

“Everyone talks about everyone. Sometimes even good friends say things about each other, certainly in such competitive professions,” Shalom, a former foreign minister and rival of Netanyahu in the rightist Likud party, told Israel’s Army Radio.

“So you have to consider the main things. Is Obama a friend of Israel? Is Sarkozy a friend of Israel? Is their policy a consistent policy of support for Israel? The answer to all of these questions is affirmative and, as far as I’m concerned, that is what’s important.”

PALESTINIAN WORRIES

Obama and Netanyahu have had a rocky relationship as U.S. efforts to broker a Middle East peace deal have foundered, with the U.S. president openly criticizing Jewish settlement building in the occupied Palestinian territories.

It was unclear why exactly Sarkozy had criticized Netanyahu. However, European diplomats have largely blamed Israel for the breakdown in peace talks and have expressed anger over Netanyahu’s approval of large-scale settlement building.

During their bilateral meeting on November 3, on the sidelines of the Cannes summit, Obama criticized Sarkozy’s surprise decision to vote in favor of a Palestinian request for membership of the U.N. cultural heritage agency UNESCO.

“I didn’t appreciate your way of presenting things over the Palestinian membership of UNESCO. It weakened us. You should have consulted us, but that is now behind us,” Obama was quoted as saying.

The October 31 UNESCO vote marked a success for the Palestinians in their broader thrust for recognition as a sovereign state in the U.N. system—a unilateral initiative fiercely opposed by Israel and the United States.

As a result of the vote, Washington was compelled to halt its funding for UNESCO under a 1990s law that prohibits Washington from giving money to any U.N. body that grants membership to groups that do not have full, legal statehood.

Obama told Sarkozy that he was worried about the impact if Washington had to pull funding from other U.N. bodies such as the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization and the IAEA nuclear watchdog if the Palestinians gained membership there.

“You have to pass the message along to the Palestinians that they must stop this immediately,” Obama said.

The day the conversation took place, the Palestinians announced that they would not seek membership of any other U.N. agency.

Sarkozy confirmed that France would not take any unilateral decisions when the U.N. Security Council discusses a Palestinian membership request, a debate expected later this month.

“I am with you on that,” Obama replied.

Writing by Crispian Balmer; Additional reporting by Dan Williams; Editing by Andrew Roche

PA minister: No further U.N. agency bids


The Palestinian Authority foreign minister denied plans to seek statehood status in 16 United Nations-affiliated groups.

Riyad al-Malki denied on Thursday denied a claim earlier this week by a Palestinian diplomat in Geneva that the Palestinian Authority would attempt to replicate its success at UNESCO, the U.N. agency dealing with science and culture, and would instead focus on its attempt to achieve statehood recognition through the U.N. Security Council.

The UNESCO vote led the United States and Israel to cut funding to UNESCO, and prompted concerns that the United States would similarly have to cut off other agencies, like the World Health organization and the International Atomic Energy Agency, should the Palestinians continue to press their case at U.N.-affiliated bodies.

The Obama administration has pledged to veto any statehood bid through the Security Council.

The UNESCO Mess


It was bound to happen sooner or later. At some point, both the president and Congress would be faced with a clear choice between U.S. national interests and the demands made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his powerful Washington lobby.

In the larger sense, it happens all the time. U.S. policy toward the Palestinians endangers our interests throughout the Muslim world, including — first and foremost — our civilian and military personnel in the Middle East, as well as our strategic and economic interests.

But usually, as is the case with some Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights like the Gaza blockade, the situation is not completely clear-cut. The Palestinians charge illegality under international law; the Israelis cite a different law.

And the U.S. can (and invariably does) say nothing, or it takes the side of the Israelis. The entire world expects that from the United States by now and understands precisely why we operate that way. It understands that Israel is an important friend whose security we would never jeopardize.

They understand quite clearly that it is our absurd system of campaign funding that dictates that we follow Israel’s lead on defending the occupation and preventing Palestinians from achieving any kind of recognition or sovereignty. The U.S. always chooses Netanyahu’s interests over the rights of the Palestinians.

However, today’s United Nations vote to admit Palestine into the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) presents U.S. policymakers with a watershed choice. U.S. interests and the Israeli government’s desires are directly pitted against each other.

To put it simply, Israel expects the United States to quit UNESCO and any other international agency that admits Palestine to membership. Hard U.S. interests dictate that we not even consider such a move.

This is not a question of U.S. interests vs. Israeli interests, which is why I refer to the Israeli government’s desires. Israel opposes UNESCO membership for Palestine as part and parcel of its policy to deny recognition of Palestine in any forum until Israel grants permission. It’s pure symbolism.

But for the United States, the implication of the policy of withdrawing from an important U.N. agency because its members recognize Palestine affects our national security in very direct ways.

So why is this happening?

It is happening because, under pressure from Israel and its lobby, the United States Congress in the 1990s passed legislation requiring the United States to not contribute to any U.N. entity that admits Palestine as a member.

According to former Sen. Tim Wirth (D-CO):

At issue are two laws from the early 1990s that prohibit the United States from providing financial contributions to any United Nations entity that admits Palestine as a member. The laws are strict: if Palestine is admitted to a UN agency, the United States must stop paying its membership dues. The restrictions provide no authority for the president to waive these prohibitions even if it is in the national interest to do so.

With a clear majority of countries around the world prepared to back Palestinian ambitions at the United Nations, the United States is poised to lose its leverage over several UN bodies that advance American interests and promote our ideal.

As Wirth explains, UNESCO “leads global efforts to bring clean water to the poor, promotes educational and curriculum building in the developing world, and manages a tsunami early warning system in the Pacific, among other important tasks. This critical work would be jeopardized if UNESCO’s top funder stops paying its bills.”

But it goes farther than that.

According to Politico‘s Jonathan Allen, the funding cut would have a damaging effect on “American tech companies — such as Apple, Google and Microsoft — and movie studios that use UNESCO to open markets in the developing world and rely upon an associated entity, the World Intellectual Property Organization, to police international disputes over music, movies and software.”

Potentially, the damage can be much, much worse if Palestine seeks and gains recognition from such other critical U.N. entities as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

The IAEA is the agency that the U.S. government has relied on to restrain nuclear weapon development (and proliferation) by Iran, North Korea, and others. The WHO works with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta to protect us from potential pandemics like the avian flu.

No matter. Pursuant to the congressional ban, if the Palestinians join any of these entities, the U.S. stops its funding and is, essentially, out.

Thanks to a powerful lobby, the United States would not have a seat at the table when critical matters of life and death are discussed.

Unfortunately, at this point, it appears that both the White House and Congress will put Israel’s demands above U.S. interests of the most fundamental kind.

In fact, within hours of the vote today, the Obama administration announced that it is cutting off funding to UNESCO — cutoffs that, no doubt, will be followed if other U.N. agencies follow suit.

Truth be told, the Obama administration has no choice. The law gives the president no discretion about withdrawing aid if a U.N. agency recognizes Palestine. In fact, AIPAC made sure that the traditional “national security” waiver was not included in the law.

That means that President Obama is in a box, although Congress could, if it chooses, vote to waive the provisions of the law.

But that would mean putting U.S. national interests above pleasing campaign donors. When was the last time that happened?

UNESCO to vote on Monday on Palestinian entry


U.N. cultural agency UNESCO will vote on Monday on a Palestinian request for membership, part of a wider Palestinian campaign for recognition as a state within the wider United Nations system.

UNESCO’s executive board decided on October 6 to allow the 193 member countries vote on the application, angering Israel and the United States, which provides 22 percent of the funding of the U.N. subsidiary and could cut that lifeline as a result.

A UNESCO spokeswoman said the vote was likely to take place late on Monday morning at UNESCO’s Paris headquarters, during an annual gathering that runs from October 25 to November 15.

UNESCO is the first U.N. agency the Palestinians have sought to join as a full member since applying for membership of the United Nations on September 23.

The bid for a full U.N. seat, which can be granted only by the Security Council, is destined to fail because Washington has vowed to use its veto in the forum if it comes to a vote.

Washington views the Palestinian quest for U.N. recognition of statehood as a unilateral move unhelpful to U.S. efforts to revive stalled peace negotiations with Israel, which it says are the only way forward.

The Palestinians say talks with Israel, which also opposes the Palestinian U.N. initiative, have brought them no closer to their goal of independence in the two decades since such negotiations began.

(Reporting By Vicky Buffery; Editing by Brian Love and Alistair Lyon)

Granger warns UNESCO: Admit Palestinians, lose funding


A top congressional appropriator, U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, warned UNESCO that granting the Palestinians full membership could mean a cutoff in U.S. funding for the cultural body.

The Paris-based United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organizations on Wednesday allowed to go ahead a full vote later this month on whether to admit the Palestinians as a member.

“Since April, I have made it clear to the Palestinian leadership that I would not support sending U.S. taxpayer money to the Palestinians if they sought statehood at the United Nations,” Granger (R-Texas) said in a statement. “Making a move in another U.N. agency will not only jeopardize our relationship with the Palestinians, it will jeopardize our contributions to the United Nations. As chairwoman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations, I will advocate for all funding to be cut off. This is consistent with current law and I will consider additional actions as needed. 

“There are consequences for short-cutting the process, not only for the Palestinians, but for our longstanding relationship with the United Nations,” the statement concluded.

Granger’s statement cited U.S. law that bans funding of any institution that grants member-state status to the Palestinians.

The United States, Germany, Latvia and Romania opposed the vote. Forty countries voted in favor and 14 abstained.

Israel rejected the approval of the UNESCO vote. “Israel believes that the correct and only way to advance the peace process with the Palestinians is through direct, unconditional negotiations,” said a statement issued by Israel’s Foreign Ministry. “The Palestinians’ actions at UNESCO negate both the bilateral negotiations route and the Quartet’s proposal for continuing the diplomatic process. Their actions are a negative response to Israel’s and the international community’s efforts to promote the peace process.”

“UNESCO’s responsibilities address culture, science and education. UNESCO has remained silent in the face of significant change across the Middle East yet has found time during its’ current meeting to adopt six decisions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The decision to grant the Palestinians membership of UNESCO will not advance their desire for an independent state whatsoever,” teh ministry’s statement said.

The Anti Defamation League called the decision to bring the Palestinian request to a vote “woefully premature and dangerously inappropriate.”

“The Palestinians have unduly politicized this body, and if this action is approved by the full membership, it risks undermining the truly important work of UNESCO,” said ADL National Director Abraham Foxman in a statement.

“UNESCO, or any international organization for that matter, is not the place to grant recognition of a Palestinian state. Seeking such recognition ignores and delays the necessary discussions about what shape proposed borders would take; the very recognition of Israel as a Jewish state; security concerns, and many other issues,” said B’nai B’rith International President Allan J. Jacobs. “All such determinations can only be made directly between the Israelis and Palestinians.”

California strikes bids to ban circumcision


California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill that prevents the state’s municipalities from banning male circumcision.

Brown announced Sunday that he had signed the measure, which takes effect immediately.

The state’s Legislature approved the bill early last month following attempts in two cities to place circumcision bans on the November ballot.

Anti-circumcision activists, or “intactivists,” in San Francisco had gathered 12,000 signatures in the spring to have a circumcision ban placed on the city’s ballot. If passed, the San Francisco initiative would have made the practice of circumcising a minor a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 or up to one year in jail, and offered no exemption for religious ritual.

A state Superior Court Judge in California had ruled in July that the anti-circumcision measure in San Francisco must be struck from the ballot because the city lacked the authority to regulate a medical procedure.

A similar measure was submitted to the Santa Monica municipality and later withdrawn.

The Jewish effort at the UN: Bang or bust?


Until the main event, which didn’t come until the very end of last week, there was a strong element of theater to all the goings-on at and around the United Nations.

Participating countries at the stripped-down Durban Review Conference issued their condemnations of Israel. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad delivered his usual diatribe at the UN General Assembly. Jewish protesters outside masqueraded as clowns to portray the United Nations as a circus, while others held a mock wedding between effigies of Ahmadinejad and Syrian President Bashar Assad. There were counter-conferences, symbolic arrests, press statements, petitions, newspaper ads and conference calls.

And there were many, many meetings.

But with the world’s attention fixated on the Palestinian and Israeli leaders, did the Jewish effort amount to anything more than a sideshow during the UN General Assembly?

“If someday the history is written, believe me we played an essential role,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, which aims to be the Jewish community’s voice on issues of foreign policy. “American Jews were not at all side players in this.”

The dueling General Assembly speeches by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “eclipsed everything else,” Hoenlein acknowledged. But he and others said that Jewish groups played a critical role behind the scenes.

In meetings that began months before the General Assembly and continued this week, Jewish organizations tried to pressure, sway, cajole and beseech governments from Washington to Libreville, Gabon, to line up against the unilateral Palestinian statehood bid at the United Nations. That strategy centered on lobbying the U.S. Congress and the White House; meeting with UN representatives, foreign ministers and heads of state; and even seeking help from influential businessmen with connections overseas.

The American Jewish Committee alone held 350 to 400 separate meetings, according to the organization’s executive director, David Harris.

The primary objective of the Jewish groups was to dilute support among UN Security Council countries and General Assembly members for the Palestinians’ statehood initiative. The secondary goal was to ensure as little attention as possible was paid to the so-called Durban III conference, the event that marked the 10th anniversary of the 2001 UN anti-racism conference in South Africa that served to rally anti-Israel forces. That’s partly why there was no major Jewish rally against Durban III.

On both counts, gauging success is tricky.

Yes, Durban III was boycotted by some 15 countries, and the media largely ignored the one-day conference held Sept. 22.

But did countries skip Durban III because of lobbying by Jewish groups, or did they decide it wasn’t in their interests to be part of a farcical process where notorious human rights violators such as Zimbabwe could herald their records fighting racism? Did media outlets fail to give much attention to Durban III because the Jews had discredited it, or because it didn’t merit much ink or airtime compared to the other big stories of the week?

On Palestinian statehood, measuring achievement is even more difficult because it remains to be seen how much opposition Palestinian statehood will encounter at the United Nations. Moreover, can meetings by Jewish nongovernmental organizations make a difference when it comes to the vote on Palestine, or will countries ultimately vote according to their national interests?

“In diplomacy, it’s not one meeting, one presentation one time by an AJC that turns the ship,” Harris said. “It’s many meetings by a variety of players—the U.S. government clearly in the lead, perhaps the Israeli government, perhaps the local Jewish community, perhaps others on the local scene—joined by AJC that somehow put the pieces of the puzzle together.”

Even at this stage—it’s only been a few days since the Palestinian Authority formally submitted its petition for statehood to the UN Security Council—already there has been some measurable success, Harris and others said.

While a few weeks ago it seemed that the United States would be forced to use its veto at the Security Council to quash a Palestinian statehood resolution, now it’s far from clear the Palestinians will be able to muster the nine votes needed to prompt a U.S. veto. America no longer seems to be the lone ‘no’ vote on the Security Council.

“The very fact that it’s even in play is a major achievement by U.S. diplomacy, supported by Israeli diplomacy and Jewish NGO diplomacy,” Harris said.

In the General Assembly, where a resolution endorsing Palestinian statehood is practically assured passage but would not carry the force of international law, Jewish groups and their allies continue to press the international body’s so-called “moral minority”—democratic countries—to oppose the unilateral Palestinian bid. With the General Assembly still in session, those meetings were slated to be held right up until the start of Rosh Hashanah, which begins on the night of Sept. 28.

“In terms of the Palestinian statehood issue, we’re really not going to know the actual result for a while,” said Daniel Mariaschin, executive vice president of B’nai B’rith International, one of the Jewish organizations that lobbies at the United Nations. “We don’t know how it will go through the Council. In terms of counting votes, we’re not able to do that right now.”

Despite that uncertainty, and the difficulty of establishing what exactly motivates countries to vote one way or another, Jewish organizational leaders said the Jewish community already has achieved some measures of success.

“I do think that there was something very positive about this entire exercise,” Mariaschin said. “Not since the effort to repeal the ‘Zionism is racism’ resolution have I seen the kind of coordinated effort by a number of Jewish organizations to work on one issue.”

Beyond that, Mariaschin said, all the demonstrations, counter-conferences and public displays by Jews in New York served a purpose, even if what the world was focused on were the speeches inside the UN building.

“A lot of people feel frustrated that they can’t actually do something,” Mariaschin said. “Knowing that organizations did something helps the morale in the community.

“I don’t think you can measure these events by their attendance. I think you have to measure these events by their content and their intent.”

Rabbi John Rosove: An urgent call to work for a better future for Israel and the Palestinians


The High Holy Days are a time when we are enjoined to reflect on old behavior and look to new ideas, to reach out within and beyond our communities to find healing, not just for ourselves or the Jewish people, but for the entire world.

What we are enjoined not to do, is remain mired in the mistakes of the past.

For decades, the American Jewish community has had but one prism through which we view the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: That of a zero-sum game, in which what’s good for the Palestinians is bad for Israel. And the results, frankly, speak for themselves: continuing bloodshed, generations of despair, no settlement and no peace.

The fates of the people of Israel and the Palestinian people are bound together – one cannot thrive while the other does not. As a community for whom Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state is of primary importance, American Jews need to acknowledge the truth and to support those who strive for a two-states for two-peoples resolution of the conflict, a State of Israel that is the homeland of the Jewish people, and a State of Palestine, a homeland for the Palestinians.

As former Internal Security Minister and Member of Knesset Avi Dichter recently said “[a]Palestinian state is a national Israeli interest, not less than it is a Palestinian one” – but even though we’ve come to understand that only a two-state resolution can bring real peace, too few of us have grasped that such a peace requires more than hopeful words coupled with zero-sum thinking.

Indeed, recent weeks have seen frantic diplomatic and advocacy activity surrounding the Palestinian statehood bid at the UN, with a dispiriting if unsurprising return to entirely predictable positions.

We hear the chorus of voices calling for a cut to Palestinian aid, in Congress and among leading members of our community, as if this will serve Israel. There is blindness here, an unwillingness to understand that aid to Palestinians serves as a bulwark against extremism, and according to American and Israeli security experts, has served to create an decade-long low in terrorism.

A small cross-section of American Jews understand this. Last week, groups ranging from The Israel Project to J Street came out in support of continued aid, as have influential figures such as David Makovsky and Elliot Abrams. In the course of my career, I’m not sure how often I’ve seen those names all on the same page.

And of course, they’re not all on precisely the same page: Some are focused on the Palestinian security apparatus, others on the connection between humanitarian crisis and extremist activity. But all have come to see that the line between Israel’s fate and that of the Palestinians’ is much thinner than we had supposed, and that if we want what’s best for Israel, we must also want what’s best for a future Palestinian state.

It is upon us who see what is really happening in the Middle East to call on President Obama to reinvigorate diplomatic efforts, and work vigorously to provide public, bi-partisan support for such efforts.

It is also upon us to make clear to Congress that across the board, the American Jewish community stands behind the two-state for two-peoples solution, and shares a powerful concern that such a solution is in danger of being over-run by history.

This requires a concerted effort on our part. The Jewish community’s advocacy must move beyond merely calling for direct negotiations to actively promoting the sustained and meaningful engagement of the American government in an urgent and relentless effort to achieve a two-state for two-peoples solution.

The challenge to honestly assess mistakes of the past and make new choices is part and parcel of the holiday season for every Jew – but in the case of Israel, the consequences are monumental. We stand at a crossroads. The opportunity to build and maintain a strong, Jewish, democratic state is quickly passing from us.

If we want to see Israel not only survive but thrive as the homeland of the Jewish people, if we want to see it live up to the values of pluralism and egalitarianism on which it was first established – then we have to move, and move quickly. We have to recognize that Israel’s future is tied to that of the Palestinians, and that a two-state for two-peoples solution has to mean just that: An actual resolution of the conflict, with two viable, successful states living side by side.

This is what the Psalmist meant by “Seek peace and pursue it.” We cannot expect peace to simply happen. It is upon us to take action to make it happen.

It’s absolutely vital to Israel’s future that the rest of us step in and provide all the support we can. I fear the conversation we will have next Rosh Hashanah if we fail to do so.

Rabbi John L. Rosove is Senior Rabbi of Temple Israel of Hollywood, Los Angeles. He writes here as an individual. He is also a member of the Rabbinic Cabinet of J Street.

Obama rejects Palestinian U.N. statehood bid


U.S. President Barack Obama on Wednesday rejected Palestinian plans to seek U.N. blessing for statehood and urged a return to peace talks with Israel as he tried to head off a looming diplomatic disaster.

Addressing the U.N. General Assembly, Obama—whose earlier peace efforts accomplished little—insisted Middle East peace “will not come through statements and resolutions” at the world body and put the onus on the two sides to break a yearlong impasse.

“There is no short cut to the end of a conflict that has endured for decades. Peace is hard work,” Obama told an annual gathering of world leaders.

Grappling with economic woes and low poll numbers at home and growing doubts about his leadership abroad, Obama is wading into Middle East diplomacy at a critical juncture for his presidency and America’s credibility around the globe.

He faced the daunting test of Washington’s eroding influence in the region in his last-ditch bid to dissuade the Palestinians from going ahead with a push for statehood in the U.N. Security Council this week in defiance of Israeli objections and a U.S. veto threat.

Obama attempted to strike a delicate balance as he took the U.N. podium. He sought to reassure Palestinians he was not abandoning his pledge to help them achieve eventual statehood while also placating any Israeli concerns about Washington’s commitment to their security.

Members of the General Assembly, where pro-Palestinian sentiment is high, listened politely but had only a muted response to Obama’s 36-minute speech.

There was widespread skepticism about Obama’s chances for success—not least because of deeply entrenched differences between the two sides—and he may not be able to do much more than contain the damage.

The Obama administration says that only direct peace talks can lead to peace with the Palestinians, who in turn say almost two decades of fruitless negotiation has left them no choice but to turn to the world body.

Obama followed his speech with a round of talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who echoed the president’s assertion that renewed negotiations were the only path to a peace deal but offered no new ideas how to get back to the table. He said, however, that the Palestinians’ U.N. statehood effort “will not succeed.”

Signalling European patience was also wearing thin after years of halting U.S.-led diplomacy, French President Nicolas Sarkozy proposed an ambitious timetable to resume peace talks within a month and achieve a definitive deal in a year.

STATEHOOD DRAMA

The drama over the Palestinian U.N. bid is playing out as U.S., Israeli and Palestinian leaders all struggle with the fallout from Arab uprisings that are raising new political tensions across the Middle East.

It also comes as Israel finds itself more isolated than it has been in decades and confronts Washington with the risk that, by again shielding its close ally, the United States will inflame Arab distrust when Obama’s outreach to the Muslim world is already faltering.

Taking note of deep frustrations over lack of progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front, he said: “Israelis must know that any agreement provides assurances for their security. Palestinians deserve to know the territorial basis of their state.”

He was due to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas later on the U.N. sidelines.

With the looming showdown overshadowing the rest of Obama’s U.N. agenda, failure to defuse the situation will not only mark a diplomatic debacle for Obama but also serve as a stark sign of the new limits of American clout in the Middle East.

Obama also used his wide-ranging speech to tout his support for democratic change sweeping the Arab world, urge further U.N. sanctions against Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad and call on Iran and North Korea to meet their nuclear obligations—twin standoffs that have eluded his efforts at resolution.

Senior diplomats from the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations—the “Quartet” of Middle East mediators—were scrambling for a compromise but with little sign of a breakthrough.

The speech offered no new prescriptions for Israeli-Palestinian peace from Obama, who laid out his clearest markers for a final deal in May and angered Israel by declaring its pre-war 1967 borders as the starting point for any future negotiations.

Obama will urge Abbas face-to-face against going through with his plan to present U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon with a membership application on Friday, setting the stage for a Security Council vote that the United States says it will block.

In separate talks, Obama had been expected to ask Netanyahu—who has had strained relations with the U.S. president—to help coax Abbas back to negotiations and also curb dangerous new tensions with Egypt and Turkey, two of Washington’s top regional partners.

But Obama was considered unlikely to lean too hard on the hawkish Israeli leader for concessions to the Palestinians, mindful he cannot afford to alienate Israel’s broad base of support among American voters as he seeks re-election in 2012.

Most analysts remain skeptical that the latest diplomacy by Obama and others will be enough to spur serious negotiations after earlier efforts hit a dead end.

Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed, Andrew Quinn, Lou Charbonneau, Alistair Lyon; Editing by Doina Chiacu