Many of my readers are probably aware that the Palestinians have been working to bring a resolution to the UN Security Council that would reaffirm the obvious fact that Israeli settlements are illegal under international law. The Obama Administration is hemming and hawing about the resolution, obviously uncomfortable with it but unable to explain why it would consider vetoing a resolution so obviously consistent with stated US policy on the matter.
It’s more difficult for Obama than for previous presidents because he has been so vocal about settlements, but has consistently avoided taking any concrete action about them. Israel knows very well the boundaries: they will not respond to mere US statements, but if there is the threat that the US will take action, they will be much more responsive. That doesn’t happen often.
In Part II of this post, you will find a letter from an impressive array of former leading diplomats and intellectuals on the Middle East urging Obama to have his ambassador support the anti-settlement resolution at the UN.
Here, though, look at this exchange between a reporter and the State Department’s spokesman, PJ Crowley. The double-talk overflows, and one finally feels a bit sorry for Crowley being in the position of having to defend the Obama Administrations actions which clearly contradict US policy.
QUESTION: Let’s see, where to begin? There are so many places. I’ll – can I start with the Middle East and the Palestinians talking about this resolution that they want to put into the Security Council this week which would condemn Israeli settlement activity. At the same time, they’re continuing their push to get countries to recognize their independence, even without a negotiated settlement. They raised the flag at their mission downtown here today, this morning.
MR. CROWLEY: Which, on that particular point, we had agreed months ago, but it doesn’t change their status in any way.
QUESTION: Well, no, but their status changed in August.
MR. CROWLEY: No, but the granting permission to raise the flag –
QUESTION: Well, that’s actually part of my question.
MR. CROWLEY: — (inaudible) does not change their fundamental status of their diplomatic mission here in the United States.
QUESTION: No —
QUESTION: But did you approve their – the status of the –
QUESTION: Well, hold on a second. Hold on a second. The flag issue –
MR. CROWLEY: We digress.
QUESTION: — would be a sideshow. I want to know what you’re going to do about this resolution at the UN and I want to know if you’re going to continue to oppose or lobby governments not to do what the Palestinians want, which is to recognize them as independent.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we continue to be in conversation with a range of countries on this issue. Our view hasn’t changed. We’ve made that clear in our discussions with the Palestinians and others. We do not think that New York or the UN Security Council is the right forum for this issue, and we’ll continue to make that case.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?
QUESTION: Okay. Well, hold on. What does that mean? If you don’t think that New York or the Security Council is the right venue, that means that you will veto a resolution if it’s brought to the Council?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I’m not going to speculate on what happens from this point forward.
QUESTION: Well, are you trying to keep – prevent them from, or are you trying to dissuade them from – and their allies from bringing this to the Council?
MR. CROWLEY: We have made clear that we do not think that this matter should be brought before the Security Council.
QUESTION: And when you do that, what do you tell them if it – what does that mean, exactly?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, what that means is that we believe that –
QUESTION: Are you going to veto it if it comes up?
MR. CROWLEY: — these issues should be resolved through the ongoing process and through direct negotiations. That is our position. We’ve made that position clear to those who have an interest in this issue. But again, I’m not going to speculate on what will happen in the coming days.
QUESTION: All right. Well, as I understand it, the resolution merely restates what has been U.S. policy for some time, that – basically, it criticizes settlement activity.
MR. CROWLEY: And again –
QUESTION: Why is it not – why are you opposed to the UN adopting a resolution that isn’t – that supports existing U.S. policy?
MR. CROWLEY: We believe that the best path forward is through the ongoing effort that gets the parties into direct negotiations, resolves the issues through a framework agreement, and ends the conflict once and for all.
QUESTION: So it’s not the contents that you’re opposed to; it’s simply the idea of a resolution.
MR. CROWLEY: We do not think that the UN Security Council is the best place to address these issues.
QUESTION: Can I ask why? Because, I mean, the UN is where Israel was created, basically. Why is the UN not the place to deal with these issues?
MR. CROWLEY: These are complex issues, and we think they’re best resolved through direct negotiations, not through the unilateral declarations, even if those unilateral declarations come in the form of a multilateral setting.
QUESTION: Plus, it undermines your own efforts. I mean, isn’t that the real reason, that it undermines your own peacemaking efforts?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we do not believe that this is a – would be a productive step.
QUESTION: But the peace process is not working, and your efforts didn’t achieve anything until now.
MR. CROWLEY: Michel, you’re right; as of this moment today, we do not have a framework agreement. That does not necessarily say that one is – that is not a – that’s an achievable task, in our view. And that remains something that we’re actively engaged in.
QUESTION: Are you contemplating any other – do you have any other levers at your disposal to persuade the Palestinians not to move ahead of these two tracks that you’re – you’re saying constantly that you don’t want them to do it, but they’re forging ahead anyway. What can the U.S. do in this situation?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we continue to engage the relevant actors. We do not think this would be a productive step.
QUESTION: Can you say exactly what will you think would be a productive step?
MR. CROWLEY: We believe the parties ultimately need to – in order to reach a framework agreement, they need to get back into direct negotiations, and we’re working to create the conditions that allows that to happen.
QUESTION: But that’s been going on for the past two years.
MR. CROWLEY: I understand that.
QUESTION: And if you’re talking about productive steps –
MR. CROWLEY: Well, it’s been going on for longer than that if – (laughter).
QUESTION: Well, this Administration, it’s been going on for the last two years. And if you’re talking about productive steps, certainly that process hasn’t produced anything.
QUESTION: Well, but I mean –
QUESTION: Why not –
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, Matt, you’re –
QUESTION: I guess the fundamental question is –
MR. CROWLEY: You’re leading to a kind of a glass half full, glass half empty kind of discussion.
QUESTION: Well, yeah, except that the glass doesn’t have any water in it at all. (Laughter.) It’s not half full or half empty. It’s completely empty. And I don’t really understand why it is that you would be opposed to a resolution that simply restates what U.S. policy has been for a long time. I mean –
MR. CROWLEY: Again, I’m not going to speculate. We’ve made our position clear. We continue to make our position clear. I’m not going to speculate on what happens going forward.
QUESTION: Well, you’ve stated the policy, but the position’s not clear, because – do you think that settlements are illegal or not? And if they’re illegal when you say them from the podium, then why shouldn’t they be illegal according to UN resolutions, which you’ve acknowledged all along? Like why can’t you just restate what you’ve been –
MR. CROWLEY: No, no. Our position on settlements is well known.
QUESTION: Is that they’re illegal.
MR. CROWLEY: It hasn’t changed. You’re talking about is this a prospective step that moves the process forward? In our view, it would not be.
QUESTION: Well, do you think that the building of settlements is a productive step that moves the process forward?
MR. CROWLEY: We believe that unilateral actions on all sides are not productive.
QUESTION: But you seem to think it’s okay – well, I mean, you don’t like it but there don’t seem to – you don’t – there’s nothing that you prevent – you don’t do anything to prevent the Israelis from continuing to build settlements. I mean, they continue to build them.
MR. CROWLEY: Again, I can continue to state our position, but I’m not going to speculate on what happens in the coming days.
QUESTION: Can I have a –