Obama at the UN: the Speech that Might Have Been

“Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.” Reinhold Niebuhr

An Address at the United Nations by the President of the United States:

Obama UNMay I address each and every one of you as the anointed representative of your respective countries, responsible to the citizens of those countries in this assembly of nations, gathered together to guarantee the rights of all peoples on this planet as defined and declared in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As President of the United States, I represent the first nation to defend its independence based on the natural rights of humankind, a precept that caused Abraham Lincoln to declare and defend those rights: “…our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” While it is true that full equality did not exist for all for decades in my country, it is also true that America never conceded the truth that all are equal. All Presidents since Lincoln have accepted their responsibility to uphold that proposition; so must I.

My friends, it is time to speak truth to power. A postscript introduces this talk: “Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.” Those are the words of Reinhold Niebuhr, a philosopher who understood the capacity of humans to recognize what is right and yearn to achieve it while he understood the inclination of some to deny the universality of such rights as they impose their will without regard to the moral principles that define right from wrong. In the latter half of the 20th century and today, the will of the few has determined the existence of the many resulting in inequity of resources, enforced imprisonment without due rights, and extensive poverty for the disenfranchised. As we witness the people around the world, especially in the mid-east, wake to a new spring of possibility where the monolith of dictatorial demands and global economic restrictions imposed on the masses is lifted, we sense the potential of humankind throughout the world to create a more caring, compassionate and equitable existence for all. Democracy is the answer to such injustice; not democracy controlled by an oligarchy of wealth and corporate power, but a democracy “of the people, by the people and for the people.”

Let me now speak truth from the heart. When I decided to run for President, I brought with me a firm set of convictions that guided my deliberations: first, the ideals declared in the foundational documents of this nation form the foundation of my own philosophy providing me a deep respect and love for this nation; second, this body, the United Nations, has found these ideals of such magnitude and value that they have become the substance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to which we are all witness; third, as one uniquely framed by America’s past, born of a mother of European lineage, and a father symbolically representative of America’s past oppression of one fifth of its population, I have had to face the excoriating judgment of Frederick Douglass, “There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices , more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour”; fourth, I am sensitive to America’s efforts to address the wrongs it tolerated for so long, wrongs that inflicted pain and suffering on our Native populations, on women and on various minorities that came to this country seeking refuge; but, I am also aware that we have as a nation, during these past three score years, determined to become a dominant world power, indeed, an empire willing to impose its will on other peoples without their consent, by force of arms, by coercion, by deception, by weapons of mass destruction, by subtlety and malignity, and have earned as a consequence the wrath of the world.

Now, as President, as one who came to this office with great hopes to correct great wrongs, I come before you at this critical juncture to prevent yet another outrage against a people who seek redress for evils imposed on them for decades. This is in effect but a gesture that will salve my heart and console my soul, a duty I have taken on as President in recognition of the evil I perceive, in order to establish justice in a sinful world.

In doing so I reject the power of the corporations that control American foreign policy that ensures unending wars sold to the American people by lies and deceit, the needless deaths of thousands of America’s soldiers and the citizens of countries that suffered at our hands, and the imposition of an economic collapse that has thrust nations of the world into chaos. I also reject the lies that impel our representatives to impale America on a cross of deceit that is in fact a rejection of our beliefs in truth, liberty, mutual respect and equality—to veto recognition of the rights of the Palestinian people to an independent state—by denying the 193 nations of this assembly the opportunity to deliberate on this issue and act on it, a complete rejection of the democratic principles this nation established and fought to maintain.

Let me present my case for such a decision. We, this assembly of nations united, recognize the “inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family” based on a “foundation of freedom, justice and peace” throughout the world. We also recognize that we are obligated as member states “to achieve … the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms.” To this end we have instituted Articles that bind us in a spirit of “brotherhood.” “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social, origin, property, birth or other status.” Furthermore, we accept that “Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state. And everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.” Perhaps most importantly, we have asserted that “Everyone has the right to a nationality.” And, “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.” But there’s more that pertains to this decision: “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.” These articles, from a total of 30, graphically illustrate why this body must recognize the independent state of .

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We must remember that it was this assembly that designed and implemented Resolution 181 that called for the partition of Palestine: 55% to , 45% to Palestine. Both proposed states had contiguous borders. According to Adalah, a legal centre for Arab minority rights in Israel,

“A resolution which may be accepted by the UN General Assembly in September 2011 should be read legally with the partition Resolution 181 of 1947. To note, Resolution 181 of 1947 cannot contradict the new resolution of September 2011. The rule of interpretation in international law states that the last rule trumps the previous rule or the rules should be read together, harmoniously.”

Justice would demand that the action of this assembly recognize Resolution 181 as a starting point for the division of the former mandate Palestine into two states:

“The 1947 Resolution 181 calls for two states, a Jewish state and an Arab state. Despite the fact that the Arabs were against the resolution, it formed the legal basis for Israel as a sovereign state. This is why the Declaration of Independence of Israel relied strongly on this resolution. Based on the Partition Plan, the Jewish state was supposed to be on the border of 1947, which then was about 50 per cent of Palestine. Today, Israel is recognised as a sovereign state, yet there is no recognition of Israel’s borders. To note, the International Court of Justice’s position regarding the [separation] wall states that the Green Line is a ceasefire border – but it does not mean that it is an internationally recognised legal border.”

Now let me declare the reasons why this action is necessary, reasons that proclaim the injustice that has been perpetrated on the Palestinian people. In the early 20th century, the indigenous Arab population in what became Mandate Palestine, administered by the British government, owned 97.5% of the land. Following the Partition Plan authored by this assembly in 1947, dividing the land into two distinct states, the Jewish forces used their overwhelming military power to force more than 800,000 Palestinians from their homes, a time of devastation, massacre, and confiscation of land known now as the Nakba. By May of 1948 when the Partition Plan was to be implemented, the Israeli forces were on their way to eradicate 418 towns and villages belonging to the Palestinians while they added that land to the unilaterally declared state of Israel.

The state of Israel now controls and occupies approximately 84% of the land that the Palestinians owned before the influx of Immigrants that now make up the population of Israel. Yet there are now almost equal populations of Israelis and Palestinians in this wedge of land called Palestine, forcing the Palestinian people to be crammed into small Bantustans separated by IDF checkpoints and the illegally constructed wall that winds its way over 400 miles of hills and valleys preventing the free movement of Palestinians in their own land, while highways allow free movement of Jewish settlers living on occupied land to move without hindrance. It is virtually impossible to create a separate state for Palestine under existing conditions. There must be continuity of territory that will enable the Palestinian people to govern themselves, hence the need for the nations united to speak forcefully for a return to the original resolution designed and approved by this body. If we do not do this, we acknowledge the right of those with power to overrun those who cannot protect themselves. That is not justice.

Today, Israel enforces a siege on the Gaza strip that has been declared illegal by this body. Indeed, for 63 years this body has voted resolutions that declare Israeli occupation policy to be illegal: over 160 resolutions by the Assembly itself and more than 60 voted upon by the Security Council, 41 of which were vetoed by the United States, in effect making Israel immune from international law yet in full defiance of it.

Finally, we as brothers and sisters in this noble exercise of democratic unity, as chosen representatives of the peoples of the world from whom we receive our commission to act, must accept our responsibility to right the wrongs of those few inclined to wield their power against the weak and subjugated because it is democracy that can and must bring justice to Palestine, to bring the only power we hold, the moral power of equity for all, to curb the greed that propels those that can to steal the land of those that cannot defend their homes, their fields, their schools, their places of worship, yea, the very culture that defines them. Only the voice of the world lifted in harmony against evil can offset the military might of one nation against its neighbors; justice demands it and we are the agents of that justice.

* William A. Cook is a professor of English at the University of La Verne in southern California and author of The Rape Of Palestine: Hope Destroyed, Justice Denied, Tracking Deception: Bush Mid-East Policy and The Chronicles Of Nefaria. He can be reached at: wcook@laverne.edu.

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