In the latest reversal of long-standing United States policy in the Middle East, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared this week that Washington no longer views Israeli settlements in the West Bank as “inconsistent with international law.”
Pompeo framed the decision as a “reversal” of Obama administration policy. He said, “[Former] Secretary [of State John] Kerry changed decades of this careful bipartisan approach by publicly reaffirming the supposed illegality of settlements,” referring to a December 2016 resolution in the United Nations Security Council that termed the settlements illegal, which President Barack Obama permitted to pass by abstaining from the vote.
But in fact, Obama had been more tolerant of Israeli settlement than his predecessors. While he talked more often about their being an obstacle to peace, that abstention was the only time in his eight years in office that Obama had allowed a U.N. resolution critical of Israel to pass. By contrast, George W. Bush permitted six UNSC resolutions to which Israel objected to pass. Ronald Reagan permitted twenty.
Obama even vetoed a UNSC resolution whose text was almost verbatim U.S. policy, causing himself quite a bit of embarrassment in the international arena. On another occasion, Israel announced a new and highly controversial settlement in East Jerusalem while Vice President Joe Biden was in the country. The administration’s reaction was to do a reading of standard talking points and move on.
Distorting Obama’s record affects more than the president’s legacy. It increases the distortion of politics around Israel and its occupation. Obama emphasized actual Israeli security needs, which, in his view, included finding an agreement with the Palestinians, and lowering the temperature between Israel (and Saudi Arabia) and Iran. Trump has focused on crowd-pleasing, grandiose gestures like moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem a move that eliminated any possibility of diplomacy with the Palestinians; or leaving the Iran nuclear deal, which aggravated tensions with Iran, thereby making the environment considerably less secure for Israel. Much like the neoconservative strategies of the early part of the century, casting those who pursue diplomacy as a threat to security allows hawks to get away with making the region less secure for everyone. Read more at LobeLog
by Mitchell Plitnick and Matt Duss
The Framework Agreement between the P5+1 and Iran announced on April 2 was an important step toward ending the long standoff over Iran’s nuclear program. Not surprisingly, it has already come under fierce attack by hawks in Washington and Iran.
On the U.S. side, opposition to the deal is rooted in a desire to see Iran’s complete capitulation, if need be at gunpoint. But negotiation requires compromise; and compromise, by definition, means no one gets exactly what they want.
Ultimately, here are the questions at hand: Can a deal based on this framework prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon? Will the U.S. and its allies be more secure because of it? The answer to both is yes. Read more at the FMEP blog.
The ongoing spat between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and United States President Barack Obama has drowned out an important issue. The entire question of the Israel-Palestine conflict seems to be out of sight and out of mind in Washington and the mainstream media. Instead, the focus has been on diplomatic protocols: on what the United States is or is not willing to concede to Iran in talks, on whether Israel can be trusted with sensitive updates on those talks, and on whether issuing renewed sanctions against Iran is a foolish idea.
Traditionally, the United States and the international community in general don’t even try to push peace in Israel’s direction when the Jewish state is in the midst of electoral campaign season. That’s what is happening now as well, despite the drama stirred up by Bibi and his congressional cohorts John Boehner (R-OH) and Mitch McConnell (R-KY). Staying out of Israeli elections is conventional wisdom, but is it the right move now? Read more at LobeLog
On December 31, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas closed out a year of stinging defeats by signing on to 18 international accords. Included among these was the Rome Statute, the treaty that established the International Criminal Court (ICC). The reaction in Jerusalem and Washington was apoplectic.
The United States rebuked Abbas, and Israel immediately vowed harsh reprisals. Shortly thereafter, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that although Israel would not increase settlement growth—a routine method of punishing the Palestinians—it would withhold the tax and tariff revenues it collects for the Palestinians. The Obama administration also announced that it was reviewing the annual U.S. aid package to the Palestinian Authority. Read the rest of this article at LobeLog.
The Palestinian Authority (PA) has now moved a step closer to making good on its threat to go to the International
Palestinian representative to the UN, Riyad Mansour
Criminal Court (ICC) and bring charges against Israel. There is little doubt that this was a move Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas tried desperately to avoid. In the end, he was forced to do it by a combination of U.S.-Israeli rejectionism, Palestinian desperation to do something to try to end Israel’s occupation, and his own many missteps.
Abbas signed on to 18 international agreements after the quixotic attempt to pass a resolution at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) predictably failed. Among them was the 1998 Rome Statute, which established the ICC and took formal effect in 2002. This is the step that the U.S. and Israel have warned Abbas against most strongly. Among all the “unilateral steps” the Palestinians could take (which, one should note, is no more “unilateral” than any number of actions taken by Israel on a routine basis), this is the one Israel worries about most. Read more at LobeLog
Former American diplomat Aaron David Miller is a frequent and worthwhile contributor to US foreign policy discussions in both Washington and the news media. His long career in Middle East diplomacy and strong focus on Israel have enabled him to clarify for the general public the many difficulties that exist under the surface of these issues. Unfortunately, as shown by his recent piece in Foreign Policy magazine, he sometimes obscures them as well.
Miller correctly points out that the Israel-Palestine conflict is not the major source of regional instability and that Secretary of State John Kerry was foolish to imply that the lack of progress on this issue had in some way become a contributing factor to the rise of the group that calls itself the Islamic State. But he also elides the enormous amount of responsibility the United States has and continues to hold not only for the Israel-Palestine conflict itself, but also for the difficulty in making any progress on the issue, let alone resolving it. Read more at LobeLog
Tal Schneider is an Israeli journalist and blogger. At her blog, she recently published this excellent piece by Afif Abu-Much, who lives in the community of Baqa Baqa al-Gharbiyye in Israel. Afif’s village is one of those that would be handed over to the Palestinian Authority in the sorts of land swaps that Avigdor Lieberman champions and all too many other Israelis support. The legitimacy and morality of such an action is often debated, but actually hearing from an Israeli citizen who would be directly affected by such a move is sadly rare. I am very grateful that Tal has permitted me to reprint this piece here, in full, as she and Sol Salbe translated it from Hebrew. Continue reading