Next Week at the UNGA

Jessica Rosenblum Image
Jessica Rosenblum
on September 15, 2017

World leaders are about to descend on New York for the United Nations General Assembly next week — and what some of them have to say could have major ramifications for J Street’s work.

President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu will give speeches on Tuesday, while President Abbas will speak on Wednesday. And I’ll be frank — we’re not expecting to like much of what we hear.

For President Trump, this will be among his first opportunities to truly address a global audience from the bully pulpit — and it’s a safe bet that his speech will feature plenty in the way of his usual bombast, hyperbole and saber-rattling. While a responsible and effective leader would look to much of the international community as potential partners with whom to build global security and stability, Trump’s standard “America First” doctrine is more likely to alienate and aggravate them.

Trump’s attitude toward the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) Iran nuclear agreement is the prime example of this destructive approach. Yesterday, after months of threatening to scuttle the Iran nuclear agreement, his administration issued the sanctions waivers needed to maintain it — a small piece of good news. But eyes now turn to October 15th, when the administration will need to once again certify to Congress that Iran is complying with the terms of the deal. The president has made clear that he’s looking for a pretext not to certify — and to trigger a process that could end with the US reneging on the agreement.

The agreement has blocked all Iranian pathways to a nuclear weapon and made the US, Israel and the world safer. That’s why so many security experts both inside and outside the administration are strongly urging the president to maintain it, and why J Street continues to work so hard to defend it. On Tuesday, we may get a better indication of what the president plans to do in the next few months — and what we’ll need to do to fight back.

There may only be one other world leader likely to publicly join in the chorus against the JCPOA — the current Israeli prime minister. Netanyahu has spent many memorable previous UN speeches expounding on Iran. This week, he stated that his policy toward the deal is “either fix it — or cancel it.” According to a new report today, that position puts him at odds with almost the entire Israeli security establishment, including “most Israeli experts in Military Intelligence and in the IDF’s Planning Directorate, the Mossad, Foreign Ministry and the Atomic Energy Committee.”

Those experts know that, to date, Iran has complied with the deal — a huge boon to Israeli security. But Netanyahu has his own personal and political agenda. Indeed, we’ve seen both his ideology, tactics and style increasingly converge with those of Trump. If the prime minister truly is lobbying hard for the US to decertify Iranian compliance and kill the nuclear agreement, that might make it even more difficult for those urging the president to maintain it.

Like Trump, Netanyahu tends to prefer inflammatory rhetoric and accusations to proactive solutions, meaningful compromises and progress toward peace and a better future. Over the past few years, as his government has drifted farther toward the hard right, the prime minister has grown less and less likely to express support for the two-state solution — and more entrenched in refusing to acknowledge any responsibility for the role settlement expansion and occupation play in exacerbating the conflict.

Netanyahu will likely continue that trend on Tuesday. We’re not expecting Trump to express support for the two-state solution either — even if he continues to tout his interest in “the ultimate deal.” Their lack of serious, substantive leadership toward peace means that, for the near future, there’s little hope of meaningful diplomatic progress.

Meanwhile, if anyone can be expected to talk at length about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the need for change, it’s President Abbas. Yet in these speeches, the Palestinian president usually has little to offer in the way of constructive steps or solutions. Facing mounting frustration among the Palestinian public, a rejectionist government in Israel and ongoing pressure from Hamas, Abbas may lash out with incendiary, counterproductive rhetoric.

According to some reports, he might also make new pledges to pursue recognition of Palestinian statehood from the international community and membership in UN bodies. If carried out, those steps could trigger provisions in US law designed to strip funding from the UN — further undermining US global leadership at a time when it’s desperately needed.

All of this is a stark reminder of why our work is so important. In the weeks and months ahead, we need to continue to push back against those who believe that leadership means making threats, sowing mistrust and scorning diplomacy.

We need to champion effective, diplomacy-first policies that can help build a safer and more stable world — and a better future for Israelis and Palestinians. We need to help elect candidates ready and willing to implement those policies.

We need to show our nation’s leaders and members of our communities that there is an alternative to endless conflict and reckless actions. There is a different path that future American, Israeli and Palestinian leaders can and must follow.

P.S: If you believe it’s important that our voice be heard right now, we hope you’ll chip in to help us reach our end-of-year fundraising goal before the Jewish New Year begins next week. We’ve still got a ways to go to meet our Rosh Hashana goal of $57,770 and we’ve got only a few days left to get there. Can we count on you to chip in $36, $72 or whatever you can?

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