In his maiden speech to the United Nations General Assembly, Israel’s new Prime Minister made no mention of the Palestinians but affirmed the efficacy of a third booster shot in their battle against the coronavirus as a key peg to re-opening their economy.
Naftali Bennet, who leads a coalition government of seven parties after replacing long-serving former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in June, highlighted two plagues challenging the fabric of societies – a pandemic and the disease of political polarisation.
His speech followed that of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday in which he accused Israel of destroying the two-state solution and threatened to withdraw Palestinian’s recognition of Israel if it does not withdraw from the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem in one year.
Bennett called Israel a beacon of democracy, a miracle of Jewish revival as he touted his country’s embrace of a third COVID-vaccine booster shot, even while millions around the world struggle to get the first dose.
“We faced a choice to either drag Israel into yet another set of lockdowns, further harm our economy and society, or double down on vaccines. We chose the latter. Israel pioneered the booster shot. Now, two months in, I can report that it works with a third dose. You’re seven times more protected than with two doses, eight months in, and 40 times more protected than without any vaccine. The booster works. As a result, Israel is on course to escape the fourth wave without a lockdown.”
Iran’s nuclear programme
He used his coalition government as an example of a push-back against growing political polarization that erodes public trust in institutions while focusing a large chunk of his speech to accuse Iran of crossing all red lines and violating IAEA safeguards in its nuclear programme, citing uranium enrichment levels of 60%, one step away from weapon’s grade material. Iran has long dismissed claims that its nuclear programme is being used to build a weapon – something the Israeli PM rejects.
“Iran’s nuclear programme has hit a watershed moment. And so has our tolerance. Words do not stop centrifuges from spinning. There are those in the world who seem to view Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons as an inevitable reality, as a done deal, or they’ve just become tired of hearing about it. Israel doesn’t have that privilege. We cannot tire. We will not tire. Israel will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon. “
Earlier speaking virtually, the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas gave Israel a one-year deadline to withdraw from occupied territories, vowing to no longer recognize the Israeli state based on pre-1967 borders as he bemoaned the lack of progress towards a two-state solution.
“To ensure our initiative is not open-ended, we must state that Israel, the occupying power, has one year to withdraw from the Palestinian territory it occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem, and we are ready to work throughout this year on the delineation of borders and solving all final status issues under the auspices of the international Quartet and in accordance with United Nations resolutions. If this is not achieved, why maintain recognition of Israel based on the 1967 borders? Why maintain this recognition?
He vowed to go to the International Court of Justice on the issue of the legality of the occupation of land that Palestinians seek for a future state. “We remind everyone that Israel seized by military force half of the land dedicated to the State of Palestine in 1948, which is a solution in conformity with international legitimacy. If the Israeli occupation authorities continue to entrench the reality of one apartheid state as is happening today, our Palestinian people and the entire world will not tolerate such a situation.”
Israel’s UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan later dismissed Abbas, accusing him of irrelevance while calling his demands “delusional ultimatums” that do not truly support peace and negotiations.