Sound and fury, sig­ni­fy­ing noth­ing

The Jewish Chronicle - - WORLD NEWS - BY ANSHEL PF­EF­FER

THE UNITED Na­tions’ 70th Gen­eral Assem­bly this week in New York was over­shad­owed by one is­sue: Syria.

The show­down be­tween Rus­sia and the West over the sur­vival of Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar al-As­sad’s regime and the best way to fight Daesh was the fo­cal event of the in­ter­na­tional pow-wow, push­ing aside other peren­nial mat­ters such as the Is­rael-Palestine con­flict and Iran’s nu­clear pro­gramme.

As a re­sult, even the much-vaunted “bomb­shell” that Pales­tinian Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ab­bas threat­ened to drop in his speech seemed much more like a damp squib.

Pro­ceed­ings were dom­i­nated by the ar­rival of a rare guest at the Gen­eral Assem­bly: Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin.

The last time Mr Putin put in an ap­pear­ance was at the 60th event. Back then, the Rus­sian pres­i­dent made do with a five-minute greet­ing in which he praised the UN but had lit­tle else to say.

In the in­ter­ven­ing decade, Mr Putin has trans­formed Rus­sian for­eign pol­icy. His forces fought a war in Ge­or­gia in 2008, last year in­vaded and an­nexed Crimea and es­tab­lished strongholds in eastern Ukraine and, as a cur­tain-raiser for this week’s speech, de­ployed over 40 fighter-jets and at­tack he­li­copters to Syria.

In his speech on Mon­day, Mr Putin ac­cused the West of caus­ing a vac­uum by in­ter­ven­ing in the Mid­dle East, which was filled with “ex­trem­ists and ter­ror­ists”.

He made it clear that as far as Rus­sia was con­cerned, the As­sad regime is now the main bul­wark against Daesh in Syria and that he would con­tinue sup­port­ing it to the hilt.

An hour ear­lier, US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama had given his speech in which he crit­i­cised “ma­jor pow­ers” which say “weshould­sup­port tyrants like Bashar al-As­sad.”

He claimed that fight­ing Daesh could not in­clude al­low­ing Mr As­sad to re­main in power but he left open the pos­si­bil­ity of a “man­aged tran­si­tion”.

De­spite the dis­par­ity be­tween their speeches, the two pres­i­dents met later that evening in New York and the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion said that “clar­ity” had been reached over Rus­sia’s in­ten­tions in Syria and that the Pen­tagon would “open lines” to the Rus­sian m i l i t a r y, e n s u r i n g t h a t t h e coun­tries’ a i r - f o r c - e s , b o t h os­ten­si­bly op­er­at­ing a g a i n s t Daesh, could “de­con­flict”.

Twenty-four hours later, be­fore the de­con­flict­ing had be­gun, Rus­sia sur­prised the Amer­i­cans by car­ry­ing out its first round of bomb­ings — not on Daesh po­si­tions, but on more mod­er­ate rebel groups (in­clud­ing at least one be­ing supplied by the US), killing at least 30 civil­ians in the process.

What was re­mark­able about Mr Obama’s speech was that it con­tained only f l e e t i ng men­tions of his

main for­eign Putin with Obama in New York pol­icy, the Ira­nian nu­clear deal, and not even one men­tion of another is­sue on which his ad­min­is­tra­tion had spent ex­ten­sive re­sources: the diplo­matic process be­tween Is­rael and the Pales­tini­ans.

It was a far cry from Mr Obama’s Gen­eral Assem­bly speech in 2010 in which he fo­cused on the is­sue and made the wish­ful prophecy that “next year we can have an agree­ment that will lead to a new mem­ber of the UN, an in­de­pen­dent, sov­er­eign state of Palestine.”

The ab­sence of any men­tion of Is­rael and Palestine, which cer­tainly was no co­in­ci­dence, has led to spec­u­la­tion that Mr Obama has no ap­petite for re­turn­ing to the con­flict in the last 15 months of his pres­i­dency.

MrAb­bas’sspee­chonWed­nes­day­was trailed in ad­vance as a “bomb­shell”, but while it was un­doubt­edly fiery, in­cluded very lit­tle of sub­stance.

Much was made of his an­nounce­ment that “Is­rael must as­sume all of its re­spon­si­bil­i­ties as an oc­cu­py­ing power” and that the Pales­tini­ans will “no longer con­tinue to be bound” by the Oslo Ac­cords. In re­al­ity, how­ever, it is un­clear how this changes any­thing on the ground as Mr Ab­bas did not an­nounce the dis­so­lu­tion of the Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity or the end of se­cu­rity co­or­di­na­tion with Is­rael. It seems that the sta­tus quo will re­main.

In the ab­sence of any other sub­stan­tial achieve­ment, Mr Ab­bas could at least con­sole him­self af­ter his speech in the first ever rais­ing of the Pales­tinian flag at the UN.

Mr Ab­bas’s state­ment on the Oslo agree­ments did not elicit a spe­cific re­sponse from Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu’s of­fice. His spokesman said the speech was “de­ceit­ful and en­cour­ages in­cite­ment and law­less­ness in the Mid­dle East”.

Mr Ne­tanyahu was due to ad­dress the Gen­eral Assem­bly on Thurs­day.

The70th Gen­eral Assem­bly wasover­shad­owed by­one­ma­jor is­sue: Syria


Ab­bas ad­dress­ing the UN Gen­eral Assem­bly on Wed­nes­day


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