Welcomed with great applause, US President Barack Obama addressed the UN General Assembly in New York. His speech focused on the pursuit of peace in an imperfect world and the Palestinian bid for statehood.
Addressing the UN General Assembly in New York on Wednesday, US President Barack Obama said the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians was a test for US foreign policy.
"I believe that the Palestinian people deserve a state of their own," said Obama. However, in an effort to forestall a unilateral, Palestinian drive for UN statehood recognition he asserted "genuine peace" could only be realized between Israelis and Palestinians themselves.
"Despite extensive efforts by America and others, parties have not bridged their differences," he said. "I know many are frustrated by the lack of progress. I assure you, so am I."
The US president stressed there was "no shortcut" to ending the conflict that has endured for decades.
"Peace is hard work," he said. "Ultimately, it is the Israelis and the Palestinians who must live side by side." He said it was up to the two sides to reach agreement on issues such as borders and Jerusalem, and that this was dependent on compromise.
Though the US was in favor of a sovereign Palestinian state, Obama stressed its ties to Israel.
"America's commitment to Israel's security is unshakable," he said. "Any lasting peace must ensure these security concerns that Israel faces every day." He said the US wanted to continue to encourage both sides to sit down and negotiate.
"That is the project to which America is committed. There are no shortcuts," he said. "That is what the United Nations should be focused on in the weeks to come."
Obama's Palestinian counterpart Mahmoud Abbas was expected to announce a formal request for statehood recognition on Friday when he speaks to the UN General Assembly.
As a permanent member with veto power, the US is expected to veto the bid in the Security Council. The European Union is split on the issue, with Germany and France against a unilateral bid by the Palestinians.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle welcomed Obama's speech on Wednesday, saying "there will only be lasting peace through negotiations, not confrontation." But he did not say how Germany would vote in the Security Council, should Abbas apply for full membership.
Changes in the Arab world
Obama's opening speech at the annual UN General assembly then turned to the Syria as he called on the Security Council to sanction the Syrian government over its brutal crackdowns against pro-democracy demonstrators.
"For the sake of Syria and the peace and security for the world, we must speak with one voice," Obama told the Assembly. "There is no excuse for inaction. Now is the time for the United Nations Security Council to sanction the Syrian regime and to stand with the Syrian people. We have to respond to the calls for change."
He praised the advances in democracy achieved across much of the Arab world earlier this year. He said the US was pleased with developments in Bahrain, but that there was more work to be done to ensure "peaceful change."
In the case of Yemen, he stressed US support for the people's aspirations for a transition of power and free and fair elections as soon as possible.
"The US will continue to support those nations on the road to democracy," Obama said.
Brazil voices support for Palestinians
Obama's speech followed Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, the first "woman voice," as she put it, to have opened the Assembly in UN history.
Rousseff said Brazil wants to see Palestine's "full representation" at the United Nations.
"Only a free and sovereign Palestine will be able to respond to Israel's legitimate desires for peace, security inside its borders, and political stability in its region," she said. Brazil is currently a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council.
Obama sees US influence on the wane
US President Barack Obama is an optimistic person, having referred in his speech at the United Nations in New York to a world in which the "tide of war" was receding.
It is true that the Arab Spring has brought democratic ideas to countries where such notions seemed impossible only a matter of months ago. However, it is also true that this happened without the help of the United States. On the contrary.
For far too long, the US President hesitated from giving his support to protesters in Egypt and Syria. And what a difference there was between the silence that met Obama as he spoke at the United Nations this year and the thunderous reception that he received two years ago at the general assembly.
Middle East a central issue
The Middle East is the issue on which everything stands and falls. Last year, Obama made an issue of peace in the Middle East and made the recognition of a Palestinian state a central point of his speech.
Then, he was optimistic that the Palestinians would have their place in the UN. Now, that seems further away than ever. Behind the scenes, the diplomatic activity is frantic.
It is hoped that the Palestinian request for immediate recognition of their state and the membership of the UN can be avoided.
The United States would block such a move with its veto in the UN Security Council, Obama reiterated in his speech.
For America, there can be no Palestinian state without a peace process. However, the peace process has now been on ice for months.
In turn, he also aroused the expectation among Palestinians that their state would be swiftly recognized - and has also had to step back from this. Ultimately, these maneuvers mean that Obama has lost influence on both sides.
The Middle East peace process is now about finding a compromise that, on the one hand, would allow Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to put forward his request for UN recognition so as not to lose face. But on the other hand, it would also not require an immediate vote by the Security Council, something that would harden opposition to it. This all points the way to fresh negotiations. But above all it is the Europeans who are working behind the scenes to find a solution.
The Americans, for so long, have been seen as the decisive power that can bring an end to the Middle East conflict, are now no longer alone in determining the situation. On the world stage, the balance has shifted.