On February 18, 2011, the Obama administration vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution sought by the Palestinian Authority and introduced by Lebanon, declaring Israeli settlements to be “illegal.” In fact, the U.S. was the only Security Council member to vote against the measure. Countries supporting the resolution in a 14-1 vote, rather than at least abstaining, included the United Kingdom, France, and Germany.
However, the Obama administration wasted no time in trying to have it both ways. It piled on Israel with denunciations of its settlement policies in as strident a manner as the Palestinians and the terrorist-ruled state of Lebanon.
In her formal statement to the Security Council explaining the United States’ decision to veto this particular Security Council resolution, Ambassador Susan Rice told the council that it “risks hardening the positions of both sides. It could encourage the parties to stay out of negotiations and, if and when they did resume, to return to the Security Council whenever they reach an impasse.”
But Rice also told the council not to interpret America’s opposition to the resolution as support for Israel’s settlement activities. America rejects “in the strongest terms the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity,” she said. “Continued settlement activity violates Israel’s international commitments, devastates trust between the parties, and threatens the prospects for peace…[W]e agree with our fellow Council members – and indeed, with the wider world – about the folly and illegitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity.”
In other words, Rice is signaling to Israel’s enemies: don’t worry about the fate of this particular piece of paper in the Security Council. The United States still backs Israel’s enemies in blaming the impasse in peace negotiations on Israeli settlements. Rice was merely continuing along the lines of President Obama’s decision early in his term to come down hard on Israel by demanding a complete freeze on settlements – including on any growth in existing settlements – without requiring any meaningful concessions in return from the Palestinian side.
Rice also referred in her statement to the idea of a “contiguous” state of Palestine, essentially repeating what President Obama had said in 2009 to the United Nations General Assembly in support of “a viable, independent Palestinian state with contiguous territory that ends the occupation.” Neither President Obama nor Ambassador Rice bothered to explain how this would be possible without cutting Israel in half. Moreover, there is still that pesky problem of the rift within the Palestinian community itself between the terrorist Hamas organization that controls Gaza and the more “moderate” Palestinian Authority that controls the West Bank.
For days before the Security Council vote on the anti-Israel resolution, the Obama administration had tried to find ways to lend its support to a censure of Israel, short of a one-sided resolution that explicitly declared the settlements “illegal” and which the council’s members would have been legally obligated to enforce. For example, the U.S. negotiators had informed Arab governments that it would support a Security Council Presidential Statement stating that the Security Council “does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity, which is a serious obstacle to the peace process.” The statement would also have included a condemnation of “all forms of violence, including rocket fire from Gaza.”
How such a statement would not have hardened the positions of both sides as much as Rice had claimed the resolution would do is anyone’s guess. But it became moot after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas rebuffed President Obama’s personal efforts to reach a compromise during a lengthy telephone call between Obama and Abbas the day before the Security Council vote.
Despite the U.S. veto, the Palestinian Permanent Observer Riyad Mansour boasted to reporters at the press stakeout outside the UN Security Council chamber about all of the support shown by the resolution’s sponsors. Israel was alone in the world in supporting its own settlements, he said.
Lebanon’s ambassador, Nawaf Salam, told reporters that his country’s main reason, as a current member of the Security Council, for introducing the resolution was because the “main objective of this institution is to uphold international law. That is why we came to the Security Council, and that is why we will continue to come back to the Security Council.”
Rather than appear in person at the UN press stakeout to answer questions about the U.S. veto, Ambassador Rice scheduled a conference call with some reporters. Responding to a question why the Obama administration was willing to support a Security Council Presidential Statement condemning Israel’s settlements but not a Security Council resolution saying much the same thing, Rice said that the United States had supported what it thought was a more constructive 3-part alternative. She described the 3-part alternative as including a Russian proposal for a trip by the Security Council representatives to the region, “a very strong Presidential Statement from the Security Council which would have gone further than we have gone of late on the issue of settlements and other important issues,” and using the “upcoming Quartet [on the Middle East] statement for making some new and important statements on core issues including territory, as well as settlements.”
Now that the Security Council resolution failed to pass because of the U.S. veto, will the Palestinians and Arab countries call Rice’s bluff and press to go ahead with the 3-part alternative proposal? It looks like the answer could well be yes. When Inner City Press asked Palestinian Permanent Observer Mansour at the press stakeout if the Security Council trip to the Middle East proposed by Russia and initially endorsed by the United States was still a good idea, he answered yes. But it seems that the U.S. may now be backing away from the trip idea. As transcribed by Inner City Press, Rice said during her conference call with reporters after the veto that “the proposal of the trip to the region seems even more complicated today than it was yesterday and I think its viability is quite questionable at this point.”
One such complication may be the realization that the trip would most likely entail awkward meetings with representatives of two terrorist organizations in the region that control Gaza and Lebanon – Hamas and Hezbollah respectively.
When Lebanon’s UN Ambassador was asked by reporters, after the vote on the anti-Israel Security Council resolution his country had introduced, to comment on the increasing tensions between Hezbollah and Israel, he refused to answer. He said that the question had nothing to do with why the Security Council was meeting to condemn Israel on this particular day.
In other words, although Lebanon took the lead at the Security Council in accusing Israel of building settlements in violation of international law, it was ducking accountability for enabling the terrorist group Hezbollah to unlawfully rearm itself with rockets aimed at Israel’s civilian population in violation of the UN Security Council Resolution 1701 that had ended the 2006 conflict between Israel and Hezbollah. What’s more, speaking in the Lebanese capital Beirut, Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah just recently threatened to take over northern Israel in case of war with the Jewish state.
The Obama administration did the right thing in vetoing the latest one-sided Security Council resolution against Israel. But it quickly muddled this decision by lending full rhetorical support to the intentions of the resolution’s sponsors – to isolate Israel further in the international community by declaring all of its settlements to be illegitimate and the cause of the breakdown in negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel. The truth is that Israeli settlements are but one of a number of issues that must be resolved before there can be a truly lasting, peaceful settlement. Israel’s 30 year peace treaty with Egypt (now itself in jeopardy) proves the risks that Israel is willing to take to secure real peace.
Moreover, there were no Israeli settlements or security fences in the West Bank for twenty years after the Palestinians and the surrounding Arab nations rejected the original two-state solution under the United Nations’ partition plan. An independent Palestinian state could have been created in those twenty years, but it was the Palestinians themselves and their patrons in the Arab world who failed to seize the opportunity. Since Israel took over the West Bank following its victory in the 1967 Six-Day War when Jordan decided to join the attack on Israel despite being warned that it would lose the West Bank territory if it did so, Israel has continued to take risks for peace.
The Obama administration refuses to acknowledge the fact that Israel has already made painful sacrifices for peace with the Palestinians, including unilaterally withdrawing from Gaza, even though it has led to greater violence from Islamic terrorists north and south of its borders and within Israel itself.
Even more fundamentally, this administration turns a blind eye to the reality that Israelis face every day of their lives – powerful forces surrounding them that do not accept Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. It is time to stop engaging in the dangerous game of blaming Israel for not reaching a peaceful resolution of its conflict with the Palestinians and come down firmly on the side of the one country in the Middle East that truly shares our Western democratic values.