The wrong message

Washington should be saying right now that Israel is the US’s only stable, dependable and democratic ally in the fast-destabilizing Middle East.

Peace talks Sharm el-Sheikh (photo credit: Associated Press)
Peace talks Sharm el-Sheikh
(photo credit: Associated Press)
In a worrying move this week, the US, through its Ambassador to the UN Susan E. Rice, reportedly informed Arab governments and the Palestinians that it would support a statement by the president of the UN Security Council censuring Israel for “settlement activity.”
The US reportedly agreed to back a statement that “does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity, which is a serious obstacle to the peace process.” According to news reports, the US also agreed to consider supporting a UN Security Council visit to the Middle East, the first since 1979, and to commit to supporting strong language criticizing Israel’s settlement policies in a future statement by the Middle East Quartet.
The Palestinians, however, were unwilling to budge on their demand that settlements be labeled “illegal” in a Security Council resolution, and are pushing to have the council vote on Friday. Barring a compromise, the Obama administration must now contemplate the prospect of using its veto power in the council for the first time. But even if the Palestinian resolution is vetoed by the US in the end, damage has already been done.
THERE ARE those who would play down the importance of Rice’s reported offer. It is no secret that the US views settlements as an obstacle to peace. The Obama administration even attempted, unsuccessfully, to introduce a complete building freeze in the West Bank and in east Jerusalem as a condition for the renewal of negotiations with the Palestinians last year. Furthermore, a statement by the president of the Security Council is a declarative act that would have no substantive impact on Israeli policy.
Besides, if the US vetoes the Palestinian-pushed Security Council resolution as expected, that would be more than it did during the Carter administration. In March 1979, the UN Security Council passed resolution 446, stating that “the policy and practices of Israel in establishing settlements in the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967 have no legal validity and constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East.” The US abstained in that vote.
Yet the reported US willingness to diverge from what Israel regards as its interests and to cave in partially to Palestinian demands to censure Israel, its closest ally in the Middle East, contrasts sharply with its stated willingness to “engage” with, rather than punish, its enemies.
Just last month, for instance, the US appointed a new ambassador to Syria, a country that backs both terrorist insurgents killing American troops in Iraq, and Hezbollah, the terrorist organization responsible, among other outrages, for the deaths of 241 American soldiers in Lebanon in October 1983.
Rice’s reported position, indeed, seems more in line with Washington’s disheartening disinclination to firmly stand by longtime allies. In January, for example, Hezbollah moved to bring down the government of US ally Sa’ad Hariri at the very moment that he was visiting President Barack Obama at the White House, registering no significant US response. After decades of support for President Hosni Mubarak, the US, almost overnight, showed a willingness to abandon him. Notwithstanding America’s desire to place itself on the right side of genuine public pressure for democratic change, US failure to robustly protect its friends or punish its enemies sends out a particularly problematic message to leaders in this ruthless region about its future inclination, or lack thereof, to protect Israeli interests.
THE MESSAGE that Washington should be sending out right now is that Israel is the US’s only stable, dependable and democratic ally in the fast-destabilizing Middle East.
As regards the specific issue of settlements, the US should have internalized and should urge others to internalize that the Jewish people has religious, historical and security claims in the biblical Judea and Samaria. It should have recognized and should encourage others to recognize that the fledgling state of Israel was attacked from precisely this territory in its first two decades of statehood, and yet this tiny, embattled island of Jewish sovereignty has been ready to contemplate far-reaching territorial compromise there in the context of a genuine process of reconciliation. That remarkable willingness to compromise should be appreciated by its allies, who should signal their resolute support for Israel in the face of its enemies, and should strive to press those enemies toward normalized relations with Israel amid a viable security framework.
At a time when it has become more clear than ever that repressive, bellicose autocratic regimes are the main source of instability in the regime – and not an Israeli- Palestinian conflict that remains unresolved because of Arab intransigence – the US should be placing itself staunchly in Israel’s corner. It should not be entertaining compromise proposals that imply the further delegitimization of some of Israel’s historic and security imperatives.