Posted on: February 16, 2011 Posted by: Mitchell Plitnick Comments: 8

The Obama Administration has tried to distinguish itself from its predecessor by seeking to work with the international community rather than outside of it. The problem it encounters, though, is that when it comes to Israel, the international community pulls in one direction and Congress, under pressure from pro-Israel PACs, pulls in the other.

So, in the matter of the upcoming UNSC resolution condemning Israeli settlements, the Obama administration will veto the resolution, but would very much prefer it doesn’t come to that. So, they’re making an offer to the Palestinians (at whose behest the resolution was brought and who, if they gavce the word, can easily have it withdrawn).

The offer was reported in Foreign Policy tonight: “Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, outlined the new U.S. offer in a closed door meeting on Tuesday with the Arab Group, a bloc of Arab countries from North Africa and the Middle East. In exchange for scuttling the Palestinian resolution, the United States would support the council statement, consider supporting a U.N. Security Council visit to the Middle East, the first since 1979, and commit to supporting strong language criticizing Israel’s settlement policies in a future statement by the Middle East Quartet.”

The offer as presented is rather vague. The US would “consider” supporting a UNSC visit to the Mideast (which would be symbolic and accomplish nothing) and would commit to “strong language” from the Quartet on settlements, which could mean anything.

The statement the UNSC would make instead of the resolution would have “the Security Council “express[ing] its strong opposition to any unilateral actions by any party, which cannot prejudge the outcome of negotiations and will not be recognized by the international community, and reaffirms, that it does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity, which is a serious obstacle to the peace process.” The statement also condemns “all forms of violence, including rocket fire from Gaza, and stresses the need for calm and security for both peoples.”

In fact, this would be a bad compromise for the Palestinians to accept. It would mean a formal UNSC statement accepting the American language on settlements in place of the flat illegality of them, which is the UNSC position (officially, the US position as well, though no American official has actually uttered anything close to that in decades).

Thus far, the Palestinians are holding fast. They should. Currying favor with the US has proven to be a failed strategy for them. While they should not spit in the Americans’ faces (they are not in the position to do that, like Israel is), it is to their benefit to show the US that it can make something uncomfortable for them. At least they can start demonstrating that it will not help the USA cover up its hypocrisy with regard to their issue.

Whether the Palestinians will hold fast to this position remains to be seen. But the “deal” the US is offering is certainly not worth their withdrawing the resolution. There will apparently be a meeting on Friday about this. If the Americans up their offer, maybe it will be worth it, but as it stands now, they’re offering the Palestinians the price of a twenty-year old Volkswagen for a brand new BMW. If the Abbas government has any pride left, they’ll keep turning it down.


8 People reacted on this

  1. The US proposal includes “reaffirm[ing], that it does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity, which is a serious obstacle to the peace process.”

    Mitchell, I really don’t see what’s wrong with this. It avoids a vetoed resolution that just leaves a bad odor for everyone, while achieving nothing; yet this proposal stigmatizes settlement activity as a bad thing.

    You know that hardliners and Republicans will yelp at this. Expecting the US to do more is unrealistic.

  2. Where you’re mistaken, Ralph, is in saying a vetoes resolution achieves nothing. It would have a much greater effect than previous vetoes in undermining American credibility on this issue, and that is good for the Palestinians. The US has proven it cannot and will not deliver for the Palestinians, that it will not push Israel in any serious way–George Mitchell literally said as much to Palestinian negotiators.

    Forcing a US veto in this matter helps the Palestinians in reorienting their strategy and creating an opening for other parties, some of whom (like the EU) have considerable leverage on Israel and far fewer political constraints in their actions than the USA.

    That is not, ultimately, as valuable as the US abstaining from using its veto on this resolution, something which a courageous administration could do. But it is far more valuable than the useless offer the US has made. The refrigeration is meaningless, and actually hurts the Palestinians, because it is the precise stance of the Obama administration, which is much weaker than what the UNSC has officially stated. Turning the US position into the UNSC’s is very bad for the Palestinians. The other pieces of the offer are not harmful, just meaningless.

  3. The validity of your position depends upon the willingness and capacity of the EU to positively impact the situation by advancing a two-state solution. But there is little, if any, historical basis to expect EU leadership and impact in achieving anything other than antagonizing Israel.

    It helps the Palestinians for the US to take this step in further endorsing the international consensus on the illegitimacy of settlement expansion. Frankly, I’m surprised that Obama would go this far, given the multiple ways in which he’s embattled politically at home and the fact that this would actually provide but another avenue for right-wing assault.

  4. No, it is not dependent on that point. Even without it, it is most definitely in the Palestinians’ interest to avoid the UNSC weakening its position on settlements, which is what this statement would do. It is also in their interest to find a way to make American kowtowing to Israel at the UNSC as uncomfortable as they can, albeit within their limited capacity to do so. Smoothing the way for such American behavior has been conclusively proven to be a dead-end for them.

    Moreover, this is not the US furthering the international consensus, which is already complete with only Israel and the US standing against that consensus. It is a retreat on that consensus because it would make the official UNSC position considerably weaker.

    But there is good reason to believe that the EU could do some good in this milieu, absent the constant US activity to prevent such action, which is very real and not in doubt.

    That they have the capacity is not questionable; they are the main international trade partners with Israel. They have more economic leverage over Israel than the US, by a considerable margin. There is no doubt they can exert very serious pressure on Israel, particularly since they do not have the domestic constraints we do here.

    Will they do so, if given the chance? They will not do it if the US threatens opposition, for a variety of reasons. But there have been strong indications in recent months, from both EU officials and European officials, even German Chancellor Merkel, of extreme dissatisfaction with Israel.

    Again, though, who knows what they will actually do if the US gives them the chance? Even they don’t until it happens. But we do know that the deal offered by the US offers only setbacks or nothing to the Palestinians, while there is some benefit to them in forcing a US veto.

    As an addendum, there is considerable energy in Washington favoring a US abstention rather than a veto. Not only among former diplomats and many with access, but also, i can tell you from personal investigation, within the State Department and even some very serious corners of Congress, though the latter will not act publicly on it in any way. A president who was willing to exert serious leadership on this could easily pull this off, and would find more support than it seems right now. That is academic, because it has already been decided against, but strong leadership on this issue has a lot more potential than is often believed on the Hill.

    By the way, Obama should not be acting to stave off right wing assaults, as they come anyway and just as viciously no matter how conciliatory he acts. That is clear from what has happened to him despite very weak positions on most progressive issues over two years. Indeed, one could argue that his conciliatory approach actually has the opposite effect of inviting the sharks in toward a weak target. In any case, it has been proven conclusively that taking actions out of fear of right-wing assault has been a losing strategy, not staving off any such attacks and weakening Obama’s left and liberal support. That has been true across the board, not only on the Mideast.

  5. The Palestinian interest in the passage of this very weak resolution is that even a weak resolution is a first move in the “organization” and empowerment of a heretofore flaccid international community. This empowerment is precisely what the USA seeks to prevent.

    The chief issue, here, is not making peace. That is a red herring. All talk of peace process is slight-of-hand.

    The chief issue is in removing the settlers and removing the settlements. That is what the international community can be helpful about. See my essay here.

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