Outgoing US President Barrack Obama’s administration made what amounted to its last statement on the Middle East crisis when it refused to cast a veto on December 23, last year and allowed the UN Security Council resolution to adopt a resolution condemning Israeli settlement construction policy. Fourteen members of the Security Council’s 15 members, including four permanent members, voted for the Egyptian-sponsored resolution while the US abstained and did not cast a veto.
The American stance came despite extraordinary pressure exerted by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu together with US President-elect Donald Trump. The latter broke unofficial protocol when he tweeted, urging the US to cast a veto and block the resolution but Obama ignored him. When the resolution was put to a vote, US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power raised her hand to abstain. She said later that the vote opposing settlement expansion was consistent with the bipartisan consensus accepted by every single US president of both parties since Ronald Reagan. She added, “This resolution reflects trends that will permanently destroy the two state solution if they continue on their current course. Our vote today does not in any way diminish the United States’ steadfast and unparalleled commitment to the security of Israel.”
The Israeli government, which for decades relied on the US to cast vetoes in the Security Council and prevent the international community from questioning its anti-peace actions, was outraged by the vote. A senior Israeli official even said the United States had abandoned the Jewish state with its refusal to block the resolution. Israel’s UN ambassador Danny Danon said, “It was to be expected that Israel’s greatest ally would act in accordance with the values that we share and that they would have vetoed this disgraceful resolution. I have no doubt that the new US administration and the incoming UN Secretary General will usher in a new era in terms of the UN’s relationship with Israel.”
If anything is disgraceful, it is the manner in which the US government has given recalcitrant Israeli leaders a blanket cover and protection from UN Security Council censure for many decades to continue to defy international opinion and ride roughshod over the rights of Palestinians. The central issue here is the two state solution to the Middle East conflict, which the UN outlined in Resolution 242 adopted more than forty years ago. Incessant Israeli settlement construction threatens to make nonsense of this solution because more and more Jewish immigrants are being resettled on Palestinian land. In time there will be no land left for the future Palestinian state.
The US government officially opposes settlement construction and argues, with some common sense, that Israel’s desire to be a Jewish state and also a democratic state cannot be reconciled with its desire to hold on perpetually to occupied Palestinian territory with millions of Palestinian Arabs on it. If the Palestinians cannot have their own state, then they must be held as second class citizens in Israel for the latter to be a Jewish state, which defeats its desire to be democratic as well. Netanyahu and other recalcitrant right-wing and ultra-nationalist Israeli politicians however want to eat their cake and still have it and they rely on blanket American diplomatic cover as well as ample military and economic subsidy. Obama, who in eight years as US president has been unable to move the Middle East process one inch forward, embarked on this measure as a last minute statement of his frustration with Netanyahu. The Israeli leader is however smugly confident that when Donald Trump takes office, he will give Israel all the blank cheque it needs to pursue its recalcitrant anti-peace policies in defiance of the world. Obama has made his last statement on this matter. It was too little too late, but it is probably better than nothing.
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