71 years on, the UN busy discussing Middle East crises
NEW YORK - There were gimmicks, the occasional gimlet eye and long goodbyes. For an institution that is technically past retirement age, the 71st UN General Assembly in New York moved nimbly enough through the usual business of diplomacy.
Slick-tongued Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, invited Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, to address Israel’s parliament. The Palestinians slammed the “new gimmick” and Israeli intransigence ahead of the 50th anniversary of the occupation.
Five-and-a-half years after the Syrian conflict began, the United States and Russia wrangled over the parlous state of the second failed ceasefire, which went into effect September 12th.
US Secretary of State John Kerry dramatically declared that the future of Syria was “hanging by a thread”; Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov strenuously denied responsibility for failing to preserve the fragile peace.
Neither the Russians nor the Syrian regime were involved in the September 19th bombing of an aid convoy headed for Aleppo, Lavrov claimed, forcing Kerry into a moment of undiplomatic exasperation. He wagged his finger at Lavrov during a UN Security Council meeting and said the Russians were living in a “parallel universe”.
If there was a theme at this General Assembly, it was about the limits of international cooperation and the ever-greater need for it.
Addressing his last General Assembly as US president, Barack Obama warned of the disruptive forces that imperil global linkages and world institutions, the rise of populism, protectionism and the politics of throwing up walls. “A nation ringed by walls would only imprison itself,” Obama warned, adding that “the world is too small for us to simply be able to build a wall” to keep out extremists.
In a sign of the times, the normally mild-mannered Ban Ki-moon delivered a charged address, his last as UN secretary-general. Admitting to “deep concern” about the state of the world as he prepares to leave office after nearly a decade, he spoke of “grave security threats” and excoriated world leaders’ failure to solve armed conflicts, govern for all and deny violent extremists the ideological space to flourish.
The results are obvious in Yemen, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Sahel region, Ukraine, South Sudan and North Korea, he said, adding that the Israeli-Palestinian impasse is “madness” and in Syria, “the bar of depravity sinks lower”.