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U.S. abstention is a message to Europe: End Israel’s impunity

The U.S. essentially admitted that its unyielding defense of Israel in the diplomatic arena was a disastrous strategy. With Obama bowing out, Europe will need to act on this lesson.

The UN Security Council, December 18, 2015 (United Nations Photo)

The UN Security Council, December 18, 2015 (United Nations Photo)

Shortly after the UN Security Council passed its resolution criticizing Israeli settlements on Friday, the U.S. State Department issued a press statement by John Kerry explaining Washington’s decision to abstain from the vote. Kerry said that their goal was to “preserve the possibility of the two state solution,” adding that “We cannot in good conscience stand in the way of a resolution at the United Nations that makes clear that both sides must act now to preserve the possibility of peace.”

Had they made that decision a year ago, Kerry and Obama might have left a meaningful legacy on the conflict; but this is not the case. Palestinians and Israelis have watched previous American presidents launch dramatic peace moves in the twilight of their administrations: Clinton with Camp David in 2000, and Bush with Annapolis in 2007. The late timing of these initiatives proved to be ineffective and even detrimental: they heightened the tensions and the stakes for the parties to agree on a rushed solution, and cast heavy doubt that any major decisions would survive under the next presidency (or under a new Israeli premiership).

This is why, contrary to what my colleague Dahlia Scheindlin argues, the Left has every reason to remain critical of the U.S.’s abstention. It is a failure of policy to be eight years late to a diplomatic move that could have had a significant impact on the conflict’s developments. It is a failure of principle to wait 36 years before allowing the Security Council to re-echo the U.S.’s own position that settlements violate international law. And it is a failure of political will to do all this just a month before the curtain closes on Obama’s presidency.

That being said, the abstention may still mark an important moment for the conflict. By withholding the veto, the Obama administration essentially admitted – intentionally or not – that its unyielding defense of Israel in the diplomatic arena was a disastrous strategy. Not only did the Israeli government personally disrespect Obama on a regular basis, it openly undermined U.S. policy by continuing to expand settlements and disparaging the very idea of a two-state solution. Now, with the incoming inauguration of Donald Trump, Obama knows that this lesson – which should have been learned long before Friday – will fall on deaf ears in the new White House.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini at the Paris Middle East peace summit, Paris, June 6, 2016. (EU Photo)

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini at the Paris Middle East peace summit, Paris, June 6, 2016. (EU Photo)

The U.S.’s abstention is therefore not so much about sending a message to Trump or Netanyahu, both of whom will ignore the resolution the moment Obama leaves office. It is instead a message to other international actors – particularly its allies in Europe – about the need to end Israel’s impunity. As the world braces itself for a more bellicose and unpredictable foreign policy under Trump, it has become more vital for the EU and non-member European states to pressure Israel through their extensive political and economic ties which, despite diplomatic tensions, remain a centerpiece of Israel’s international relations.

This shift is hardly a comforting thought. Like the U.S., the EU remains glued to the defunct peace process and has failed to follow up on its critical statements with meaningful action. Even minor, less political issues – such as whether to demand compensation for EU-funded property destroyed by the Israeli army in Area C – are contested subjects among the EU members. Moreover, Europe is facing its own numerous problems from its shaky monetary union to the growing refugee crisis. The rise of the political right, including in major countries like the UK and possibly France, is also likely to have an impact on European positions vis-a-vis Israel and may further reduce the will to make any major moves in the conflict.

Nonetheless, with Obama bowing out, it is incumbent upon European states to continue removing Israel’s diplomatic cover. If the U.S. has finally admitted that it “cannot in good conscience” block the UN Security Council anymore, then Europe needs to step up its efforts to counter Israel’s destructive policies, starting with the de facto annexation of the West Bank. Anything less will simply re-confirm that, aside from a few occasional texts, the international community will do nothing to stop the apartheid reality that has unfolded, and that the Palestinians are on their own in fighting against it.

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    COMMENTS

    1. Lewis from Afula

      In another 3 weeks, Obozo will be gone and the World will feel a sigh of relief. Trump will allow Israel to increase Yesha’s population to 500,000. At that point, the so-called falestines will have failed.

      Reply to Comment
      • Dave Cohn

        The ugly face of racism.

        Reply to Comment
      • Carmen

        You’re really delusional Lewis. tRUMP will prove as untrustworthy as Boobie. They deserve each other and the world will breathe again, without the stench of apartheid.

        Reply to Comment
        • Lewis from Afula

          Whose “Boobie” ??

          Reply to Comment
        • Itshak Gordin Halevy

          Mr. Netanyahu is the best Prime Minister of the State of Israel. I think that Mr. Trump will be a great President of the USA, much greater than Hussein Obama. They will together do a good job. We have to wait till January 20th, period full of danger. The State of Israel will be put under extreme pressure coming from the French, the UN and the USA. From January 21 we will breathe again after 8 years of disappointment.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            2334 is on the books, Halevy. 14-0. It permanently reaffirms and clarifies the illegality of the settlements. (And sets the stage for potential actions by the ICC. Israeli civilian and military leaders, beware.) There is nothing Trump, or you, can do to reverse it. Trump is not the king of the world and you are not the king of the Jews. Or whatever royal thing you imagine you are. If Trump actively aids the settlements he will be embroiling the United States in directly violating clearly settled and newly reaffirmed international law. Which will further wrest the monopoly on this issue away from the U.S. and hand it to the Europeans. And if Trump were to move to “defund the UN” he will only further reduce America’s influence and isolate it.

            “The Jews won the support of much of the world for establishing a national home in the Land of Israel, once the international community recognized the justice and objective need for doing so. There is no justice or need for settlements, and only those who have traded their integrity and conscience in exchange for blind support for an orthodox, militaristic, and separatist current of Judaism can support them. On Friday, the UN Security Council reminded that current of the limits of its power.”
            https://972mag.com/the-world-is-trying-to-save-israel-from-itself-will-it-listen/123916/

            Reply to Comment
          • Subway1EightyNine

            2334 is a non-binding chapter 6 UNSC resolution. It changes nothing. The only message it contains is a comment on how much of a coward Obama is and how right his detractors were all along.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            And, as Amjad Iraqi argues,
            U.S. abstention is a message to Europe: End Israel’s impunity
            https://972mag.com/u-s-abstention-is-a-message-to-europe-end-israels-impunity/123922/
            “… it is incumbent upon European states to continue removing Israel’s diplomatic cover. If the U.S. has finally admitted that it “cannot in good conscience” block the UN Security Council anymore, then Europe needs to step up its efforts to counter Israel’s destructive policies, starting with the de facto annexation of the West Bank. “

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            “8 years of disappointment.”

            You’re the only people I know who get 38 billion dollars and unflinching support for your true defense needs (and needed restraint against your worst impulses, and incredible patience and forbearance, as you only get from a true friend) by the most supportive POTUS in history, and express “disappointment.” Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush 1, Clinton and Bush 2 all had the same or more “anti-Israel” policy as Obama on the settlements, but only Obama is slammed as a treacherous anti-semite and treated with shocking contempt and incredible arrogance and ingratitude. What’s different? Two things: the radicalization and overweening arrogance of Bibi’s Israel, and pure racism. Daniel Sieradski makes the point well:
            https://www.facebook.com/danieljsieradski/posts/10154916215299433?comment_id=10154916580679433&notif_t=feed_comment_reply&notif_id=1482769977957543

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            Ben:
            ICC = International Chess Club?

            Reply to Comment
    2. Ben

      It’s interesting to me how the Israeli Right turns any subject into an opportunity to hate on Obama. In the most irrational way. It’s a cult. And he’s the magic hate object. The lightning rod. The voodoo doll. This is the same Right that with great satisfaction has made sure its lobbies turn even the feeblest anti-occupation whispers into political suicide for US politicians. And if the politicians heed that they’re not smart, they’re “cowardly.” And if Obama *had* prioritized opposing the occupation over more pressing domestic and foreign issues, never mind winning an election, you would not have called that “courage.” No, you would have called it “being obsessed with Israel” and “anti-Semitic.” And that’s, basically, hogwash, and racist:
      https://www.facebook.com/danieljsieradski/posts/10154916215299433?comment_id=10154916580679433&notif_t=feed_comment_reply&notif_id=1482769977957543

      You guys have a problem. Regarding hate of Obama. Really, it’s weird. You should look at it.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Hey Amjad,
      I don’t think that the US abstention was an admission of its disastrous strategy. It think it was an indication that the US strategy of protecting Israel, which has been very successful for the last 40 years, is now starting to run into headwinds as the world community moves closer and closer to unanimity on the issue.

      Reply to Comment
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