US President Barack Obama.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In defending America’s decision to abstain in a UN Security Council vote that castigates Israel for settlement building, US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power said the vote was perfectly in line with longstanding US policy.
Technically, this is true. Since 1967, consecutive US administrations starting with Lyndon Johnson’s and continuing through George W. Bush’s have made clear their opposition to settlements.
Nor are US abstentions on anti-Israel votes unheard of. Looking back over previous administrations, the largest number of abstentions on anti-Israel resolutions took place when Republican presidents considered friendly to Israel were in power.
Still, what makes these abstentions different from the vote Power tried to defend was that they were nearly all in response to specific incidents or actions such as Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights and east Jerusalem; the 1981 air attack on the Iraqi nuclear reactor; Israel’s policy of house demolitions; calls for cease-fire during the second intifada or during IDF operations in Gaza or Lebanon; or Ariel Sharon’s much-publicized visit to the Temple Mount.
One must go back to the Carter administration to find a similar abstention – on Resolution 452 – which condemned Israel’s settlement activity and declared settlements to be an obstacle to peace.
But even if we grant Power and the Obama administration their claim that the abstention on the anti-settlement resolution was in keeping with longstanding US policy, why now and why in the Security Council?
After eight years of experience with Palestinian intransigence, the outgoing US president and his advisers must know that resolutions such as Friday’s 2334 only serve to bolster Palestinian refusal to negotiate. This was precisely Obama’s mistake at the very beginning of his presidential career when he demanded that Israel implement a total settlement freeze. That move served only to harden the Palestinian stance: How could the Palestinian leadership demand any less than a complete settlement freeze from Israel as a precondition for negotiating after Obama had?
Far from encouraging Palestinians to negotiate with Israel, the resolution will strengthen the belief that direct talks are useless and that the most effective way to put pressure on Israel is through internationalization of the conflict.
Obama decided to make the outgoing administration’s position known in the UN, an institution notorious for its obsession with Israel. The US president could have made a major policy speech on Israel in the Rose Garden. He could have addressed Congress. But he chose the UN.
Just this year the UN General Assembly adopted 18 resolutions against Israel and the Security Council adopted 12 Israel-specific resolutions, “more than those focused on Syria, North Korea, Iran and South Sudan put together...,” as Power noted in her speech in an attempt to explain the US’s inexplicable abstention.
What’s more, Resolution 2334 is absurd in that it makes no differentiation between places such as the Old City and the Kotel or consensus Jerusalem neighborhoods like Ramat Eshkol, and isolated settlements with a handful of residents in Judea and Samaria.
More pernicious, however, will be the ramifications of Resolution 2334. It will give new life to boycott, divestment and sanctions efforts, particularly article 5 of the resolution which calls upon the nations of the world “to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territories of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967.” The distance is short from delegitimization of Jewish settlements, neighborhoods, towns, cities and institutions located beyond the 1967 armistice line to delegitimization of everything Israeli.
Even terrorist attacks directed against residents of the “territories” will be in some sense understandable, according to UN morality and legal principles, since every Jew living in these areas is considered, according to the Security Council, not only a criminal but an obstacle to peace.
We can only lament Obama's decision, made in the twilight of his term. It hurts chances for direct negotiations, strengthen BDS and sullies Israel’s name. For all the strengthening of Israel’s defense deterrence and unprecedented financial aid that his administration heaped on Israel, this is Obama’s legacy; this is his parting shot.