By Ilan Fuchs, Ph.D.
Faculty Member, Legal Studies
Manhattan traffic is always bad, but this week has been nonstop gridlock. The United Nations General Assembly Summit is in the city, bringing with it dignitaries from around the world who require intense security measures, effectively shutting down the city.
While traffic may be at a standstill, the summit is an international opportunity to move things along in the global political arena. The New York Times estimated 157 world leaders will give speeches this week until the conclusion of the summit on Sunday, Sept. 25. In addition to making official addresses, world leaders are meeting with each other without intermediaries, discussing some of the most pressing international issues.
While the war between Russia and Ukraine was at the center of many speeches, the main players were not present. Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy sent a prerecorded address to the general assembly that outlined his positions concerning the resolution of the conflict. He was far from conciliatory, making statements like demanding “Punishment for the crime of aggression” and “restoration of security and territorial integrity.”
He said: “This is the formula of crime and punishment, which is already well known to Russia. And this is the formula of justice and law and order that Russia has yet to learn. As well as any other potential aggressors. What is not in our formula? Neutrality.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin decided not to come to the event, nor did the leader of China, India or Ethiopia. Several countries took the opportunity to call for the end to the war. President Biden, in his address to the General Assembly, was very clear as to who is to blame for the conflict. He also blamed Russia for war crimes and pledged to continue to help Ukraine:
“In the past, even more horrifying evidence of Russia’s atrocity and war crimes: mass graves uncovered in Izyum; bodies, according to those that excavated those bodies, showing signs of torture. This war is about extinguishing Ukraine’s right to exist as a state, plain and simple, and Ukraine’s right to exist as a people. Whoever you are, wherever you live, whatever you believe, that should not — that should make your blood run cold. That’s why 141 nations in the General Assembly came together to unequivocally condemn Russia’s war against Ukraine. The United States has marshaled massive levels of security assistance and humanitarian aid and direct economic support for Ukraine — more than $25 billion to date.”
Middle Eastern Politics
There were other political statements that were made during the week that were meant to send a message. The President of Iran, Ebrahim Raisi, took the podium in New York and called for creating a tribunal to put former President Donald Trump on trial for ordering the killing of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani. He held his picture while accusing the U.S. of war crimes. Raisi also made headlines after cancelling an interview with CNN in New York on Wednesday after the well-respected journalist, Christiane Amanpour, refused to wear a hijab during the interview.
Israeli Prime Minister, Yair Lapid, also had several important meetings with regional and international leaders in an attempt to gain some political advantages before the Israeli elections in November. He first met with King Abdullah of Jordan, asking the king to use his power to calm the situation in Samaria and prevent another mass uprising in the West Bank before the election. He also had a meeting with Turkish President Erdogan. Erdogan told American Jewish leaders he was planning to visit Israel and was calling for resuming the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.
Lapid also held meetings with the Greek Prime Minister, a country with a strong military relationship with Israel, as well as the new British Prime Minister, Liz Truss, who said she is considering moving the U.K. embassy from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem. While unlikely, the conservative Prime Minister, has a strong relationship with Israel and this was seen as a sign of commitment to this relationship by the new Prime Minister.
Lapid’s busy schedule was meant to try and delay a violent eruption on the Palestinian front that would hurt his chances in the election while also showing he is an important world leader who can hobnob with the best of them just like Benjamin Netanyahu, who is famous for having the ear of many world leaders.
He concluded his UN appearance with a speech calling for resuming the peace process:
“Israel’s economic and military strength allows us to protect ourselves, but it also allows us something else: To strive for peace with the entire Arab world. And with our closest neighbors – the Palestinians. An agreement with the Palestinians, based on two states for two peoples, is the right thing for Israel’s security, for Israel’s economy and for the future of our children. Peace is not a compromise. It is the most courageous decision we can make. Peace is not weakness. It embodies within it the entire might of human spirit. War is surrender to all that is bad within us. Peace is the victory of all that is good. Despite all the obstacles, still today a large majority of Israelis support the vision of this two-state solution. I am one of them.”
His speech aimed to send a strong message to voters in the upcoming elections in November.
World politics is a complex business, and the General Assembly Summit is an important relationship-building opportunity for world leaders. The ability to talk with each other face to face makes political negotiations easier. and mitigates the gridlock that tends to underscore the political element. Hopefully these conversations will initiate progress in the political dynamic.