Obama Gets in His Last Licks at Israel
U.N. Security Council Resolution 2334 will doom whatever infinitesimally slim chance of a negotiated settlement between Israel and the Palestinians still remained. While the Resolution will do nothing to advance peace, it will breathe new life into the international BDS movement, make life miserable for Jews -- or at least that dwindling percentage of Jews who still support Israel -- on university campuses worldwide, and create the potential for Israeli political and military figures, and citizens living beyond the 1949 armistice lines, to be hounded any time they set foot outside of Israel.
Yale Professor and former chief of staff at the State Department, Charles Hill, summarized President Obama's impact on the peace process succinctly:
The first thing Obama did when entering office was to derail all hopes for an Israeli-Palestinian agreement by declaring all settlements to be illegal. Now the last thing he's done is to enshrine that anti-Israel position into international law in language that can be followed up with sanctions to delegitimize Israel's existence itself. . . . And all this as the the Arab-Islamic realm is engaged in the greatest Muslim mass slaughter of Muslims in history while the "international community" does nothing. . . . Obama has done just about all he can to make [a] negotiated settlement impossible."
Vetoing a similar resolution in 2011, then United States ambassador to the U.N. and present National Security Advisor, Susan Rice rightly explained that the resolution "could encourage the parties to avoid negotiations." By abstaining last Friday and allowing the resolution to pass, President Obama has now justified the strategy outlined by Mahmoud Abbas to the Washington Post editorial board in early 2009 on his first visit to the Obama White House. Abbas admitted that he had little interest in face-to-face negotiations with Israel and preferred to rely on American pressure to extract further Israeli concessions.
As long as the Palestinians believe that time is on their side, they will continue to wait for the international community to bring Israel to its knees. And that belief has now been given more credence.
By declaring the 1949 armistice lines to be Israel's legal borders and every building built beyond those borders to be illegal as a matter of international law, the U.N. effectively granted everything to the Palestinians, and thereby made it impossible for any Palestinian leader to ever make concessions to Israel regarding Jerusalem or the so-called "settlement blocs." To do so would be to cede to "stolen Palestinian lands."
But by rendering any Palestinian concessions impossible, Resolution 2334 simultaneously guarantees that there will be no agreement between the Palestinians and Israel. Israel will not agree to tear down its capital city or return the Kosel to Arab control so that they can once again use it as a latrine, as was the case prior to 1967. Nor will Israel uproot 750,000 citizens, including close to 300,000 in new neighborhoods of Jerusalem, from their homes or return to the "Auschwitz borders" that existed prior to the 1967 Six-Day War.
IF THE RESOLUTION DEMONSTRABLY SETS BACK the possibility of peace, why, then, did the Obama administration allow it to pass? Here the principle of Occam's razor applies: The simplest explanation that explains the known facts is likely the right one. President Obama, to put it mildly, is simply not that "into" Israel. The waning days of his administration constituted his last chance to stick it to Israel and his longtime nemesis Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu without political cost to himself. And he could not let it pass.
Obama studied under Edward Said as an undergraduate at Columbia and later renewed the friendship; he sat through twenty years of virulently anti-Israel sermons from Jeremiah Wright; and he befriended one-time PLO spokesman Rashid Khalidi, during the latter's Hyde Park days. (The Los Angeles Times still refuses to release a video of Obama's speech at a farewell party for Khalidi, presumably because it was a bit too fulsome in adopting the Palestinian line.)
Ali Abunimah, vice-president of the Arab American Action Network (AAAN), founded by Khalidi has spoken publicly of how he heard from Obama early in his political career comments "very supportive of U.S. pressure on Israel" of a "kind I'd never heard from a U.S. politician who seemed like he was going somewhere." Just as Obama once promised Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on open-mic that he would be much more forthcoming with Russian once the 2012 election was over, so, too, did he assure Abunimah during his 2004 Senate bid that he would be much more "up front" about his actual views on Palestine once the election was over.
In his famous Cairo speech, after being elected president in 2008, Obama more subtly adopted the view he had imbibed from Edward Said that Israel is a colonialist outpost in the Middle East, when he spoke of the creation of the state of Israel solely as an outgrowth of European guilt for the Holocaust.
It is certainly Netanyahu's view that last Friday's resolution was an expression of the long-standing animus of the Obama administration. "We have no doubt that the Obama administration initiated it, stood behind it, coordinated the versions and insisted upon its passage," he told the cabinet. Israel publicly, and undiplomatically, accused President Barack Obama of "colluding with the Palestinians behind Israel's back" and cooking up an extreme anti-Israel resolution. Vice-President Joe Biden was said to have personally lobbied the Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko, to carry on with Ukrainian sponsorship of the resolution, after Egypt withdrew its sponsorship at the behest of president-elect Trump. Without hard intelligence, it is hard to imagine Netanyahu making such charges.
Nor is there any reason to credit the denial of deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes: "We did not draft this resolution; we did not introduce this resolution. We made this decision when it came up for a vote." Rhodes is already on record gleefully boasting in a New York Times profile of the deception used to push through the Iranian nuclear deal. He is being no more truthful now.
According to Rhodes, the U.S. voted as it did because accelerated Israeli settlement activity threatened to put the two-state solution at risk. But, as an outraged Alan Dershowitz, who was twice duped into vouching for Obama to American Jews and now rues his naivete, pointed out, that justification would only apply to the expansion of new settlements. And the resolution applies with equal force to historically Jewish neigbhorhoods of Jerusalem conquered by Jordanian forces in 1948 and recaptured by Israel in 1967. He accused the Obama administration of a classic "bait and switch" in its justification for the agreement.
Rather than curtailing Israeli settlement activity, the latest manifestation of the U.N.'s systemic bias against will likely lead to greater settlement activity as an expression of defiance. And Obama knows that.
There is currently no peace process, as Rhodes himself admits. In the eight years of the Obama presidency, there was only one nine-month period in which face-to-face negotiations took place, and it just happened to coincide with the nine months in which there was no U.S. demand for a freeze on all settlement building.
Having failed to move the needle on Palestinian-Israeli peace for eight years what makes the administration think it can do so in its last two weeks? And what kind of vanity provokes them to try in ways carefully calculated to tie President-elect Trump's hands. Just as Obama used the U.N. Security Council to circumvent congressional approval and to bind the United States to the Iran deal, so he now seeks to use it to preclude the Trump administration from adopting a new approach.
If there is one thing we know with a certainty about the president, it is that he is a vain, petty, vindictive man. That vanity prevents him from ever reconsidering his own wisdom in light of new facts. He came into office believing that settlements constitute the core of the problem in solving the Palestinian-Israel conflict, which he viewed as central to the instability in the region. That latter view has been rendered untenable by the events of the last eight years in Syria, Egypt, and Iraq.
It is a mark of the disdain in which Obama is held in the region that the Sunni Muslim states now see Israel as a closer ally than the U.S. No one enjoys rubbing Obama's nose in his impotence more than Putin, who announced last week that the upcoming "peace talks" on Syria will take place without U.S. or U.N. participation.
No doubt Obama has also been stung by the almost universal verdict that as a "foreign policy president" he has been a complete failure (even leaving the Iran deal out of the equation). He remains unperturbed by the 500,000 dead and millions displaced in Syria, where Russia has moved decisively into the vacuum left by the United States and once again regained its status as the dominant outside power in the region. His pivot to Asia has been greeted by even greater Chinese aggression, and the cozying up to China of former U.S. allies like the Phillipines. And about the "reset" with Russia, the less said the better. The long-rumored non-veto was an attempt to claim at least one "achievement," however dubious.
And it was also a last opportunity to settle scores with Netanyahu, who has refused to roll-over and play poodle for every far-fetched concession sought by the administration to "jump-start" the peace process. There are only so many Palestinian terrorists with blood on their hands that Israel can release as confidence-building measures, without receiving anything in return. If, as appears likely, Secretary of State Kerry offers his own prescriptions for a final settlement and attempts to enshrine them in another Security Council Resolution in the next two weeks, we will all have a clear picture of why Netanyahu could not acquiesce in American demands.
SAMANTHA POWER, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., offered, as a sop to Israel, a denunciation of the body's obsession with Israel, noting that members "summon the will to act only when it comes to Israel." She might well have been referring to the Security Council's inability to do anything about the slaughter in Aleppo by Russian, Iranian, and Syrian forces.
She then proceeded to lend a hand to the most momentous act of anti-Israel discrimination by the U.N. ever. The U.S. abstention, she claimed, was consistent with long-standing U.S. policy. Not true. It was not even consistent with the Obama administration's own policy. U.N. ambassador Susan Rice vetoed a similar resolution in 2011.
While numerous U.S. administrations have urged Israel to freeze settlement activity in Judea and Samaria, none have deemed that activity en toto illegal under international law. Security Council Resolution 242, the basis of all subsequent Middle East peacemaking, specifically contemplates the Israeli return of "territories," not "all" territories or "the" territories. And it specifically refers to the right of each country in the region to live within secure and recognized borders.
That wording was precise and deliberate. No one contemplated in 1967 that Israel should or would ever return its holiest sites. The Joint Chiefs of Staff made clear to President Lyndon Johnson that Israel had been indefensible prior to its lightning victory in 1967 and it should not be pressured to commit national suicide by returning to those borders.
In 1994, the U.N. ambassador Madelaine Albright made clear that the U.S. would veto any resolution labelling Israeli settlement activity as illegal under international law on the grounds that the issue of sovereignty over the West Bank was a matter that could only be determined through negotiation.
Finally, in April 2004, President George W. Bush provided Prime Minister Ariel Sharon with a letter establishing that any final settlement must be take into account changes on the ground since the 1967 War, including the creation of large Israeli settlement blocs and the transformation of Jerusalem. True, the Obama administration refused to recognize that letter or its conclusions from Day One, even as applied to Jerusalem. But in doing so it was departing from the policy determinations of the previous administration, not upholding them.
Similarly, treating the 1949 armistice lines as sacrosanct and declaring Israel an occupying power in all areas beyond the armistice lines is a departure from all previous administrations. No country recognized the 1949 armistice lines as Israel's legal borders, least of all the Arab states, which still hoped to eradicate Israel and push the Jews into the sea. They tried in 1967, and were defeated. Defeats in aggressive wars have consequences. Just ask the Germans.
Prior to 1967, there was no internationally recognized sovereign in the West Bank or East Jerusalem, and certainly no Palestinian state whose lands could be occupied. Under the League of Nations mandate, which designated the area to the West of the Jordan River for a Jewish homeland, and which was subsequently incorporated in Article 80 of the U.N. Charter, Israel has by far the best claim of any nation to the West Bank.
ASIDE FROM A BOILERPLATE condemnation of terrorism and incitement, without specifying anyone in particular who might be thus accused, 2334 places the sole onus for the failure of the peace process on Israel. No mention is made of the Palestinian hate education that would render any written agreement not worth the paper it is written on.
Moreover, the Palestinians are no closer to being ready for a state than they were 100 years ago. Their energy has been directed for a century to destroying the Jewish settlement, not to developing civil institutions of their own. They remain divided by family and clan divisions. Last week's resolution can neither hide nor overcome the weakness of Palestinian political leadership and the lack of capacity of Palestinian institutions, writes Walter Russell Mead. The bitter civil war that erupted in Gaza after the Israeli withdrawal is an indicator of what a Palestinian state would be like. And the last thing the Middle East needs today is another failed state to serve as a magnet for all manner of terrorist groups.
RESOLUTION 2334 was enacted under Article VI and not Article VII of the U.N. Charter, and thus carries no immediate threat of sanctions against Israel, though it might serve as a prelude for such. But that it not to imply that it is harmless or that its effects will be easily undone by the incoming Trump administration. As Professor Hill puts it, "From anti-settlement to anti-Zionism to anti-Israel to anti-Semitism is the logic chain at work."
The call on member states to distinguish in their dealings with Israel between those areas within the 1949 armistice lines and those beyond legitimizes the BDS movement, and its repercussions will be felt on every college campus. That call applies to every Israeli bank or company that has a branch or office in the Old City of Jerusalem or in one of the post-1967 neighborhoods. The U.N. Human Rights Council, funded in part by the U.S., has already passed a resolution to compile an international blacklist of all companies doing business beyond the 1949 armistice lines.
Still, Resolution 2334 was not the greatest betrayal of Israel by President Obama. Even if he pushes through his "final solution" to the problem and gains Security Council support, in the next two weeks, that won't be his greatest perfidy. Pride of place will still belong to guaranteeing that Iran will become a nuclear state a little more than a decade hence.
But last Friday's resolution still shows President Obama's animus towards Israel in its full colors.