Separated by One UN Speech, Netanyahu and Abbas Remain Far Apart

(Bloomberg) -- Separated by just one speaker at the United Nations podium, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas gave speeches that showed their differences are as wide as ever.

Following Abbas and the Prime Minister of Norway, Netanyahu challenged the Palestinian leader to meet while they’re both at the UN and to address the Israeli Knesset in Jerusalem. In turn, he said he’d address the Palestinian parliament in Ramallah. Abbas said direct talks have not worked and that any resolution of the 68-year-old conflict can only take place through an international conference, such as one proposed by France later this year.

“Wouldn’t it be better if instead of speaking past each other we were speaking to one another,” Netanyahu said. Abbas accused Israel of practicing “racial discrimination” and condemned its continued construction of West Bank settlements, telling the UN body, “I must once again appeal to you to provide international protection for the Palestinian people.”

Annual Showdown

The showdown between the two leaders has become a tradition at the annual UN event, though they aren’t usually showcased on the same day. The dueling speeches come less than two months before the U.S. election. Israelis have expressed concern that President Barack Obama might use the period before he leaves office in January to put a personal stamp on the Middle East conflict, perhaps in retribution for Netanyahu’s crusade against an Iranian nuclear deal in 2015.

Obama, who has had a difficult relationship with Netanyahu since the two took office in 2009, criticized Israel’s occupation in his own speech to the UN this week, leaving some Israelis wondering whether he might allow the UN Security Council to endorse Palestinian statehood at year-end without the traditional U.S. veto of such a measure.

Promising what he described as “shocking” news, Netanyahu -- who regularly berates the UN for its criticisms of Israel’s human rights record -- said the country has a “bright future” with the global body. He said recognition and support for Israel is increasing around the world, singling out Africa and the Middle East.

Arab Initiative

In that vein, Netanyahu hailed Israel’s strengthening ties with its Arab neighbors and said he welcomes the “spirit of the Arab peace initiative,” a plan originally proposed by Saudi Arabia in 2002 that offers diplomatic relations with all Arab states in exchange for Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank, Gaza Strip, east Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, which it captured in 1967.

“Our peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan continue to be anchors of stability in the volatile Middle East,” Netanyahu said. “Many states in the region recognize that Israel is not their enemy -- they recognize that Israel is their ally. Israel’s diplomatic relations are undergoing nothing less than a revolution.”