Mahmoud Abbas took a bit of the pressure off of Benjamin Netanyahu in the Israeli prime minister’s speech to the United Nation’s General Assembly on Monday. As least some of those who had hoped Netanyahu would make a bold gesture toward renewed peace negotiations understood that after the Palestinian president’s slanderous accusations against Israel in his own UN speech last Friday, Abbas was making the case for Jerusalem’s reluctance to proceed along the same old, unsuccessful path toward reconciliation with the Palestinian Authority.
Abbas accused Israel of “genocide” and “war crimes” against the Palestinians in the Gaza war this summer and called on the UN to end Israeli occupation of the West Bank, once more seeking to avoid direct talks with Jerusalem. “We will not forget and we will not forgive, and we will not allow war criminals to escape punishment,” he asserted.
The Palestinian leader’s false, hostile assertions, which were condemned by the U.S., paved the way for Netanyahu to suggest that an “historic opportunity” for improved relations between Israel and its neighbors should begin with a rapprochement between Jerusalem and moderate Arab states that share common interests. Reversing the notion that an Israel-Palestinian peace deal would lead to improved relations in the region, the prime minister said that “these days I think it may work the other way around,” as he looks to “Cairo, Amman, Abu Dhabi, Riyadh and elsewhere” to establish ties that could result in peace with the Palestinians.
But for the most part Netanyahu used the UN platform to offer a sober, grim view of world affairs, asserting that “militant Islam is on the march,” with global ambitions and consisting of “branches of the same poisonous tree.” Those branches include Hezbollah, al-Qaeda, Boko Haram and Hamas as well as the Islamic State, or ISIS, he said, with Iran the greatest threat of all to Western civilization.
“Make no mistake, ISIS must be defeated,” Netanyahu insisted, “but to defeat ISIS and leave Iran as a threshold nuclear power is to win the battle and lose the war.”
Returning to his persistent theme of the danger Iran represents to the world, not just Israel, and to his insistence that Tehran’s “nuclear capabilities must be fully dismantled,” he implicitly took issue with Washington’s consideration of allowing Iran to maintain some degree of capacity for nuclear production. (So far, the talks between Iran and the U.S. and its allies, which have a Nov. 24 deadline, have made little progress.)
Netanyahu’s pessimistic outlook of world affairs, which calls for action against those who threaten our way of life, is not in sync with the increasing mood of isolationism in America. And his emphasis on the need for Israeli security, which trumps conciliatory gestures toward the Palestinians, is not popular with those who seek a reversal of the deepening rift between Jerusalem and Ramallah. But the prime minister makes a convincing case for facing up to a form of militant Islam that seeks domination and thrives on international inertia.
Just ask President Obama, who despite his efforts to extricate the U.S. from military entanglements in the Middle East, has been drawn back into the thick of things. He came to realize, however late, that ISIS presents a real danger to stability in the region, and beyond. Netanyahu is calling for the U.S., and other major powers, to recognize that Iran, despite its insistence on peaceful intentions, is indeed the leader in global terrorism. It must be countered rather than catered to, he argued, and moderate Arab states need to play a key role in advancing the cause of Mideast peace.
“All this may fly in the face of conventional wisdom,” the prime minister noted in closing his speech. “But it’s the truth. And the truth must always be spoken, especially here, in the United Nations.”
Tragically the UN has become a house of mirrors, with, in but one example, a human rights commission that investigates Israel, not Hamas, for war crimes. While Netanyahu may not be saying what world leaders want to hear, it is to the peril of us all if they do not heed his call.