Posted on: January 19, 2011 Posted by: Mitchell Plitnick Comments: 2

In Part I of this post, we saw the difficulty the State Department spokesman is having explaining how the Obama Administration can even consider vetoing a UN resolution that is so obviously in line with US policy. The letter below was signed by a very impressive list of DC veterans, including former ambassadors to Israel and other places, high-ranking former US officials, and leading voices in the world of Middle East advocacy and education.

The letter argues not only that settlements are illegal, but that the US has repeatedly emphasized its opposition to Israeli settlements. As such, a veto of the proposed UN Security Council resolution is inconsistent with US policy and interests and also in opposition to international law.

Please spread this letter around and, if you can, please also send it to your members of Congress. They need to know their constituents agree with the sentiments here.

Letter to the President of the United States

Washington, DC — 18 January 2011

Dear Mr. President,

In light of the impasse reached in efforts to revive Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, and as the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) moves to consider a resolution condemning Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territory, we are writing to urge you to instruct our Ambassador to the United Nations to vote yes on this initiative.

The time has come for a clear signal from the United States to the parties and to the broader international community that the United States can and will approach the conflict with the objectivity, consistency and respect for international law required if it is to play a constructive role in the conflict’s resolution.

While a UNSC resolution will not resolve the issue of settlements or prevent further Israeli construction activity in the Occupied Territory, it is an appropriate venue for addressing these issues and for putting all sides on notice that the continued flouting of international legality will not be treated with impunity. Nor would such a resolution be incompatible with or challenge the need for future negotiations to resolve all outstanding issues, and it would in no way deviate from our strong commitment to Israel’s security.

If the proposed resolution is consistent with existing and established US policies, then deploying a veto would severely undermine US credibility and interests, placing us firmly outside of the international consensus, and further diminishing our ability to mediate this conflict.

If the U.S. believes that the text of the resolution is imperfect, there is always the opportunity to set forth additional U.S. views on settlements and related issues in an accompanying statement. The alternative to a Resolution – a consensus statement by the President of the UNSC – would have no stature under international law, hence this option should be avoided.

As you made clear, Mr. President, in your landmark Cairo speech of June 2009, “The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop.”

There are today over half a million Israelis living beyond the 1967 line – greatly complicating the realization of a two-state solution. That number has grown dramatically in the years since the peace process was launched: in 1993 there were 111,000 settlers in the West Bank alone; in 2010 that number surpassed 300,000.

The settlements are clearly illegal according to article 49 of the Fourth Geneva convention – a status recognized in an opinion issued by the State Department’s legal advisor on April 28, 1978, a position which has never since been revised.

That official US legal opinion describes the settlements as being “inconsistent with international law”. US policy across nine administrations has been to oppose the settlements, with the focus for the last two decades being on the incompatibility of settlement construction with efforts to advance peace. The Quartet Roadmap, for instance, issued during the Bush presidency in 2003, called on Israel to “freeze all settlement activity, including natural growth.”

Indeed, the US has upheld these principles, including their application to East Jerusalem, by allowing the passage of previous relevant UNSC resolutions, including: UNSCRs 446 and 465, determining that the settlements have “no legal validity”; UNSCRs 465 and 476, affirming the applicability of the Fourth Geneva convention to the Occupied Territory; UNSCRs 1397 and1850 stressing the urgency of achieving a comprehensive peace and calling for a two state solution; and UNSCR 1515, endorsing the Quartet Roadmap.

At this critical juncture, how the US chooses to cast its vote on a settlements resolution will have a defining effect on our standing as a broker in Middle East peace. But the impact of this vote will be felt well beyond the arena of Israeli-Palestinian deal-making – our seriousness as a guarantor of international law and international legitimacy is at stake.

America’s credibility in a crucial region of the world is on the line – a region in which hundreds of thousands of our troops are deployed and where we face the greatest threats and challenges to our security. This vote is an American national security interest vote par excellence. We urge you to do the right thing.

Respectfully yours,

Amjad Atallah, Co-Director, Middle East Task Force, New America Foundation

Bruce Ackerman, Sterling Professor of Law and Political Science, Yale University

Rabbi Leonard I. Beerman, Leo Baeck Temple, Los Angeles

Peter Beinart, Associate Professor of Journalism and Political Science, the City University of New York; Schwartz Senior Fellow, New America Foundation

Landrum Bolling, Senior Advisor, Mercy Corps

Hon. Everett Ellis Briggs, former US Ambassador, Portugal, Honduras, Panama; former special advisor to President George H.W. Bush, National Security Council; former President, Americas Society and Council of the Americas

Hon. Frank Carlucci, former US Secretary of Defense

Hon. Wendy Chamberlin, President, Middle East Institute; former US Ambassador, Pakistan

Steven Clemons, Founder and Senior Fellow, American Strategy Program, New America Foundation; publisher, The Washington Note

Hon. Walter L. Cutler, former US Ambassador, Saudi Arabia

Hon. John Gunther Dean, former US Ambassador, Cambodia, Lebanon, Thailand, India

Michael C. Desch, Professor of Political Science, University of Notre Dame; Contributing Editor, The American Conservative

Hon. James Dobbins, former Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs

Hon. Joseph Duffey, former Director, US Information Agency

Hon. Wes Egan, former US Ambassador, Jordan

Hon. Nancy H. Ely-Raphel, former US Ambassador, Slovenia; former Counselor on International Law, Department of State

Dr. John L. Esposito, Professor of International Affairs and Islamic Studies, School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University

Rabbi Tirzah Firestone, Board of Directors, Rabbis for Human Rights – North America

Hon. Chas W. Freeman, Jr, former US Ambassador, Saudi Arabia; former President, Middle East Policy Council

Hon. Edward W. Gnehm, Jr., Professor of Gulf and Arabian Peninsula Affairs, George Washington University; former US Ambassador, Jordan, Kuwait

Hon. William C. Harrop, former US Ambassador, Israel, Guinea, Kenya, Seychelles, Zaire

Hon. Carla Hills, former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and former US Trade Representative

Hon. Roderick M. Hills, former Chairman, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission

Hon. H. Allen Holmes, former Assistant Secretary of State, European Affairs; former Assistant Secretary, Political-Military Affairs; former US Ambassador, Portugal

Hon. Arthur Hughes, former Deputy Chief of Mission, Israel; former Deputy Assistant Secretary, Department of Defense; former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Near Eastern Affairs

Robert Jervis, Professor of International Affairs, Columbia University; former President, American Political Science Association

Christian A. Johnson, Professor, Hamilton College

Michael Kahn, Professor Emeritus of Psychology, University of California, Santa Cruz

Hani Masri, Publisher, The Palestine Note

Hon. David Mack, Vice President, Middle East Institute; former US Ambassador, UAE; former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Near Eastern Affairs

Hon. Richard Murphy, former Assistant Secretary of State, Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs; former US Ambassador, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Mauritania

William Nitze, former Assistant Administrator for International Activities, Environmental Protection Agency; Trustee, the Aspen Institute

Hon. Robert Pastor, former Senior Director, National Security Council; Professor of International Relations, American University

Hon. Thomas Pickering, former Undersecretary of State, Political Affairs; former US Ambassador, Russia, India, Israel, El Salvador, Nigeria, Jordan, United Nations

Paul Pillar, former National Intelligence Officer, Near Eastern Affairs; Director of Graduate Studies, Security Studies program, Georgetown University

Hon. Anthony Quainton, former US Ambassador to Kuwait and Peru; former Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security; former Ambassador-at-Large and Coordinator for Counter Terrorism, State Department

William B. Quandt, Professor, Middle East history, University of Virginia; former National Security Council Middle East Assistant, President Carter

George Salem, former Solicitor of Labor and Chairman, Arab American Institute

Hon. Roscoe Suddarth, former US Ambassador, Jordan; former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs

Andrew Sullivan, Senior Editor, The Atlantic; Editor and Publisher, The Daily Dish

Hon. Nicholas Veliotes, former Assistant Secretary of State, Near East and South Asian affairs; former U.S. Ambassador to Egypt and Jordan; former Deputy Chief of Mission to Israel

Hon. Edward S. Walker, Jr., former US Ambassador, Israel, Egypt, UAE; former Assistant Secretary of State, Near Eastern Affairs

Hon. Allen Wendt, former US Ambassador, Slovenia; former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, International Energy and Resources Policy

Hon. Philip Wilcox, President, Foundation for Middle East Peace; former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Middle Eastern Affairs; former Ambassador-at-Large and Coordinator for Counter Terrorism, State Department

Col. Lawrence Wilkerson (USA, ret), former Chief of Staff, Department of State; Visiting Professor, College of William & Mary

James Zogby, President, Arab American Institute

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