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Bennett to urge action on Iran in UN speech, won’t focus on Palestinians — aide

PM will warn that world facing ‘critical stage in Iranian nuclear program’; adviser says Israel’s international ties ‘multi-faceted,’ mustn’t be defined by Palestinian issue

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett leads a cabinet meeting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem, on September 12, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett leads a cabinet meeting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem, on September 12, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

NEW YORK — Prime Minister Naftali Bennett will seek to portray Israel as a global player whose expertise can offer solutions to pressing world problems during his speech at the United Nations on Monday, a senior adviser said.

Bennett’s first UN General Assembly address will focus on the “Israeli ethos of action, of solutions, of innovation, of optimism,” the adviser said during a phone briefing from New York City on Sunday. The speech will also address “Israel’s place in the less sympathetic region we live in, and Israel’s place in the wider global context, where there is good news and there is bad news.”

The prime minister’s address will reflect what the adviser called a new, “more optimistic and dynamic” view of Israel in the eyes of the world, one that reflects the “new generation of Israeli leadership.”

“This is the time to tell the story of Israel,” said the adviser.

Israel’s COVID-19 response will be part of that message, with the prime minister explaining to the world how Israel is handling the pandemic without additional lockdowns, and what lessons the Israeli experience has to offer the world.

“The way he describes the Israeli model to others will be interesting,” the official said.

Call for action on Iran

Iran’s nuclear program will also be a focus of the speech, with the message that the time has come for concrete action.

“The Iranian nuclear program should be dealt with through actions,” the adviser said, while acknowledging that speeches have their place as well, such as with enlisting the help of the international community.

“The direction [of his talk] will be that we are at a critical stage in the Iranian nuclear program,” the official said, pointing at Iran’s continued enrichment, and the possible resumption of nuclear talks in Geneva.

Bennett will also address Iran’s support for regional terrorism and armed proxies, and will speak briefly about Iran’s new hardline leadership.

European-sponsored talks in Vienna have aimed to revive the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers. The pact, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), granted Iran relief from sanctions in return for dismantling parts of its nuclear program to prevent it from obtaining nuclear weapons.

In this image, made from an April 17, 2021 video released by the state-run TV station Islamic Republic Iran Broadcasting, various centrifuge machines line a hall at the Natanz Uranium Enrichment Facility. (IRIB via AP)

After former United States president Donald Trump pulled out of the deal in 2018 and reapplied crippling sanctions, Iran also dropped some of its own commitments, notably upping its uranium enrichment to levels said to put it within a few months’ grasp of enough material for a weapon.

The Biden administration has said that it is willing to return to the JCPOA, if Iran first rolls back its recent moves and recommits. But the Vienna talks have been on hold since June, when ultraconservative Ebrahim Raisi was elected as Iran’s president.

Earlier this month, US and Israeli security officials reportedly held a meeting to discuss what to do if Iran does not return to the nuclear deal.

Peace, but not with the Palestinians

In the wake of hundreds of Iraqi activists and leaders calling for normalization with Israel over the weekend, Bennett will also speak about the encouraging trends in the Abraham Accords, and new opportunities in the region.

The US-brokered accords, signed in 2020, normalized relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. Since then, Morocco and Sudan have also signed normalization agreements with the Jewish state.

However, Bennett will not speak much about the Palestinians, reflecting his belief that Israel is an important, multi-faceted country, and that its role on the global stage should not be seen through the prism of its conflict with the Palestinians.

“Israel’s relations with the world don’t need to be defined by this specific issue,” said the adviser.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the United Nations General Assembly remotely from his office in Ramallah, on September 24, 2021. (Screenshot)

The Abraham Accords have also contributed to the isolation and weakening of the Palestinian position, by eroding a longstanding Arab consensus that recognition of Israel should only be given in return for concessions in the peace process.

Bennett was actively involved in writing the address, the official said.

“He decided at a certain stage that he wants it to be his speech, also because it’s his first speech, and wrote it himself to a great extent,” the adviser said, adding that there was an intensive back-and-forth process of dialogue and edits.

Bennett will speak at 9 a.m. local time Monday morning, the last day of the 76th UN General Assembly.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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