Settlements, sovereignty, Obama and the Palestinians

The more interesting question is why the Palestinians did not press for the UN resolution previously.

December 28, 2016 21:57

Settlements . (photo credit: BAZ RATNER)

Passage of the anti-settlement resolution by the Security Council should have come as no surprise to any honest observer of the Mideast scene.

It is incontrovertible that virtually the entire world is opposed to Israeli settlements in the territories taken over by the IDF during the 1967 war. As to Jerusalem and the Golan, the opposition runs even deeper, because virtually the entire world opposes the annexation of these areas, so building in the areas is viewed as being a further implementation of the illegal annexation.

When the settlement movement began, it was commonly held that the placement of civilian centers in these areas would contribute to security and serve as a buffer between the eastern Arab countries and Israel. That notion has passed on, in part because of the technological changes in warfare and in part because it probably was never true in the first place.

The buffer justification has been replaced by the argument that unilateral moves by the international community or the UN in particular would actually make it more difficult to achieve peace, which must be the product of bilateral negotiations without prior conditions.

From a logical point of view, there is little basis for this argument, although it is certainly instructive as a tactical matter.

Having thus dispensed with the two major arguments that are presented to support the settlement movement, it no wonder that so many of the nations of the world have sided with the Palestinians on this point.

Israel also makes an incisive legal argument – namely, that the territories were never under the recognized sovereignty of any nation, not Transjordan and certainly not an independent state. Thus, in 1967, Israel moved into a legal vacuum. The consequence of this argument is then that much of the body of international law (including the prohibition against changes in the makeup of the civilian population) simply does not apply. While this argument is intellectually interesting, it is far from persuasive on a practical level. As litigation lawyers learn each day: “If you are depending on the law, without persuasive facts, you have a losing case.” Once again, if this is Israel’s justification, it cannot convince the world.

The reality of the situation is that settlement is the product of an ideological movement that believes that Israel is entitled, whether for religious or historical reasons, to a nation from sea to sea. Obviously, this idea will not find many supporters throughout the UN membership. Indeed, it has limited support in Israel itself. The settlement movement exists because of a duality of internal pressures – ideological and political. This movement may have justification within Israel itself, but it certainly will not fare well in the international debate.

Thus, the anti-settlement resolution is clearly not surprising.

The more interesting question is why the Palestinians did not press for the UN resolution previously. The answer is of course that they did do so, but they and other UN members saw the US veto as an obstacle. This raises questions: Why did the US brandish its veto saber over the years (although this was used only once in recent years)? Why did the Palestinians, Europeans and Third World nations care if the US would veto the resolution? The answers to these questions are speculative to be sure.

We can propose the following: In fact, the United States did honestly believe that the one-sided actions of the UN against Israel were highly improper, and they drew a red line at an anti-settlement resolution at the Security Council. The US’s opposition to the settlements has never been hidden, but the US still would not give this opposition an international imprimatur by a highly prejudiced world organization. Moreover, in the giveand- take of world politics, it made no sense for the Security Council to spin its wheels just to evoke the ire of the United States.

The Palestinians were very crafty in drafting the present anti-settlement resolution. Along with the major element of berating Israel, the resolution also called for an end to violence on both sides of the equation. US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power made it clear that the US had in the past opposed any anti-settlement resolution because of the lopsided UN biases; now that the resolution was more even-handed, the US could abstain in good conscience.

The Palestinian success with regard to the current resolution is so well-conceived and well-orchestrated that one finds it difficult to understand their prior actions. One would have expected them to concentrate their efforts on an anti-settlement resolution notwithstanding US opposition. If the resolution would be vetoed, that would simply fuel their propaganda warfare against Israel and the US.

It may very well be that the Palestinians simply could not afford to confront the US too strongly, so they waited for the right moment.

Or it may be that they are simply not such good tacticians. In any case, when the resolution happened it was not a surprise.

In rounding out our analysis of the resolution, two more political points must be made.

First, there is no doubt that Obama severely detests Netanyahu, if for nothing else than Netanyahu’s frontal attack on Obama in the former’s speech at the joint session of Congress.

The entire scene, from the invitation itself, to the appearance and then the speech itself, was a direct affront to the President. It is therefore no surprise that Obama used his last days in office to give Bibi a strong, international slap in the face.

Second, Obama was quite aware that Jewish voters had traditionally voted overwhelmingly for the Democratic presidential candidate but that this loyalty was being eroded. He was very careful, during the months preceding the election, not to do anything that would raise the ire of Jewish voters more than his Administration had already done. Indeed, once again, in the recent election, more than 70% of the Jewish community voted Democrat.

The timing of the Security Council resolution was perfect. The election was over and the inevitable was about to happen. So, Obama could now freely give Israel, Netanyahu and the Jewish people in general the goodbye present that he really wanted to give them – a slap that could be heard around the world.

We have seen that the US’s failure to veto the recent Security Council Resolution was not a surprise and was expected by all clear thinkers. We cannot conclude without relating to the question of what new expected surprises should be in store. Notwithstanding the Talmudic comment as to who merits the prophetic powers in modern times (fools and children), the temptation nonetheless to engage in prophecy is too tempting to avoid.

At the outset, it is safe to say that the US’s support (couched as an abstention, but if one reads Power’s remarks, it was clearly a vote of support) for the anti-settlement resolution will give the Europeans additional confidence as they take stronger and stronger measures against Israel. Academic boycotts, BDS, embargoes of goods made in the territories (giving Palestinians jobs), and similar campaigns will be deemed not only as legitimate but as morally required acts.

On an individual level, we can expect Obama to become a second Jimmy Carter, traveling the world as an elder statesman, spouting the venom that he had to restrain during his presidential years against Israel and in favor of a worldview that has proven itself an abysmal failure on all levels and in all fields.

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