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Lunching With Riyad: The UN Security Council Vote Condemning Israeli Continued Settlement Building

December 29, 2016
Security Council stakeout: Riyad H. Mansour, Permanent Observer of Palestine to the UN, speaks to reporters at stakeout on Palestine matters.

Riyad H. Mansour, Permanent Observer of Palestine to the UN,

Obama’s abstention at the U.N. was meant to throw a monkey wrench into the Trump-Friedman program, slow it down enough so that in the end it cannot be implemented and in so doing, save what little bit of prestige and good will is left for the United States in the region. It is not a serious peace initiative that will result in the fading goal of a two state solution, more simply a kind of holding action, damage control meant to prevent Trump and Netanyahu from doing their worst. It remains to be seen whether this will work or not. 

Riyad Mansour, Palestinian Ambassador to the United Nation from the Palestinian Authority

On a chilly day with a cold wind whistling down urban wind tunnels of Manhattan, along with a mutual old friend, we met for lunch in Manhattan. He was on a tight schedule but managed to carve out an hour to sit with two old friends and companeros.  Although I hardly expressed it, I was moved to see my old friend – now in a position of some authority – after all these years.  Riyad Mansour is currently Palestinian Ambassador to the United Nations from the Palestinian Authority. We knew each other long ago and far away when we were both peace activists in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Good organizing…and he was among the best. It had probably been around thirty-five years since I saw him though, maybe more.

I had requested the meeting, not to get into any nitty-gritty movement dirt or gossip about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but to get a sense of how close – or off the mark – my thinking on the current situation of the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and to hear it from a trusted Palestinian voice. Mansour stated the general approach succinctly: to underline in the United Nations and other international organizations the seriousness of the Palestinian acceptance and support of international law as the Israelis violate it with impunity.

The soon-to-be voted on UN Security Council Resolution condemning Israeli settlement building did not come up in our discussions at all and even had I been aware of what was brewing I probably wouldn’t have broached the subject. I wasn’t interested in “a scoop,” but of the bigger picture so to speak, the long view, how Mansour, the Palestinian authority, saw Palestinian prospects for the future given the current difficult and oppressive situation on the ground in the West Bank and Gaza. I just wanted to hear a Palestinian voice – and in this case – coming from an old friend  whose views – and entire life-long experience – I trusted.

I wasn’t interested in “a scoop,” but of the bigger picture so to speak, the long view, how Mansour, the Palestinian authority, saw Palestinian prospects for the future given the current untenable situation on the ground in the West Bank and Gaza. I just wanted to hear a Palestinian voice – and in this case – coming from an old friend  whose views – and entire life-long experience – I trusted

Everything I had read in the news suggested increased illegal settlement, a seething bedrock of racism within Israel itself against Palestinians that only intensified with the years, a Palestinian movement divided between Abbas and what was left of the old Fatah elements on the one hand and Hamas – creation of the Muslim Brotherhoods (with some help from the Israelis themselves) on the other. An unending series of racist incidents – burning Palestinian olive groves, the unending arrests and harassment of Palestinian youth, the slow, not so slow death of an entire community – Gaza, choked by a full-scale Israel-Egyptian blockade.

Put it all together and the possibility for a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza as a part of two state solution based upon the 1967 boundaries looked bleak at best. Whatever possibility that might have existed to implement such an agreement when Barack Obama came to the presidency in 2008 was missed. As commentator, Jim Wall, wrote in a recent piece:

“The Kerry speech was overdue by about eight years. During Obama’s two terms, Israel has marched in full view of a grumbling world, across Palestine like so many panzer divisions, imprisoning a population and stealing land for itself…Eight years ago, Obama made his choice: In order to get Congressional support in other areas, he chose not to exert his bottom-line presidential prerogative on Israel against the wishes of a Congress that remains essentially, Israel’s puppet.”

With the turn of the new year it will be a full fifty years – half century – since Israel, feigning a struggle for survival that played well at the time in the West – invaded parts of Syria (Golan Heights), Egypt (Gaza and the Sinai) and Palestinian territories under Jordanian authority (the West Bank) in a smashing military victory that not only expanded the territories controlled by the Zionist state by a factor of three but also spent a powerful blow to the center of Arab nationalism at the time: Nasser’s Egypt. The speed and efficiency of the Israeli offensive had impressed the Johnson Administration at the time and thus began “the special relationship” between Washington and Tel Aviv. The rest is history.

The Current Situation: United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334

On December 23, 2016, less than a week ago, the UN Security Council passed what technically called United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334. It can be read in full by clicking on the link to the left. A brief, succinct statement of less than one page, at the heart of the resolution was a condemnation of Israeli settlement building in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem.  It condemns Israeli settlement building as “a flagrant violation of international law”, stating such activity has no legal validity. The resolution notes Israeli settlements pose “a major obstacle to the vision of two States living side-by-side in peace and security.” It goes on to demand that Israel cease such activity and fulfill its obligation as an occupying power under the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Several commentators – Israeli Uri Avnery among them – noted that after the resolution passed the members of the Security Council took an unusual step  and “applauded their own handiwork,” as if finally, they had done the right thing, voted for what was ethical rather than expedient. Avnery explains: “The delegates were deliriously happy. They had just achieved something that had eluded them for many years: the condemnation of a blatant breach of international law by the government of Israel.”

It was the first UN Security Council resolution specifically critical of Israeli settlement policy since the passage of Resolution 465 in 1980, thirty-six years ago. In the thirty-six years since, the Israeli settler population has exploded from somewhere around 200,000 to more than half a million, the lion’s share of those taking place in the aftermath of the aborted 1993 Oslo Accords, which did nothing to stem the tide.

While the Obama Administration speaks about the importance of saving the two state solution,  one doesn’t have to be very much of a cynic – just a realist – to understand that there is, given the Israeli settlement mania, little hope left that such an agreement might be possible. The U.S. action while welcome (from this writer) is at best, too little too late. Furthermore, mostly a symbolic measure, Resolution 2334 does not include any sanctions or coercive measures to counter the Israeli settlement bonanza. Still its passage could have, as a Haaretz article put, “serious ramifications for Israel in general and specifically for the settlement enterprise in the medium-to-long term (usually referring to 25-50 years out).

The resolution passed by a 14-0 vote for. The United States delegation, led by U.N Representative Samatha Power, abstained, refusing to use its veto power to kill the resolution. Outside of Israel, a scattering of Jewish and Christian Zionist supporters in the United States, and those close to the incoming Trump Administration here, the resolution was generally welcomed by the International Community in the following days. Major Jewish organizations in the United States were split over the resolution. Organizations like J-Street, Jewish Voice for Peace, the liberal and more left-leaning organizations and individuals either supported the resolution or like the major Jewish news source, The Forward, did not oppose it.

Explaining the Obama Administration’s abstention, in a speech at the State Department, U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry gave what was probably the Obama Administration’s harshest critique of Israeli West Bank settlement policy. In a language repeatedly noted by U.S. (and other) peace movement represents (but rare for an American administration representative) Kerry accused the Israeli West Bank settlement program of breaking up the area in “small parcels like a Swiss cheese that can never constitute a real state.” He further added that “The United States cannot properly defend Israel if we allow a viable two-state solution to be destroyed before our eyes.”

In a language repeatedly noted by U.S. (and other) peace movement represents (but rare for an American administration representative) Kerry accused the Israeli West Bank settlement program of breaking up the area in “small parcels like a Swiss cheese that can never constitute a real state.” He further added that “The United States cannot properly defend Israel if we allow a viable two-state solution be destroyed before our eyes.”

On the other hand, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s response has been repeatedly characterized as “hysterical.” As Dale Cohen, an admitted Israeli supporter noted in an op-ed in Daily Kos:

Acting like a spoiled brat, Netanyahu went on a rampage. He has recalled his ambassadors from Senegal and New Zealand, and cancelled visits to Israel from the prime minister of the Ukraine, which voted yes, and from the Senegal foreign minister. .

As is Netanyahu’s nature, much of the attack of the resolution, focused on outgoing President Obama and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in scathing terms. A genius at digging the isolation hole Israel finds itself in that much wider and deeper, immediately after the resolution passed, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced a halt to Israeli government’s funding contributions to numerous U.N. institutions. He called the resolution “a disgraceful anti-Israel maneuver” and blamed it on an “old-world bias against Israel.” Furthermore, he vowed to exact a “diplomatic and economic price” from the countries that supported it. Shortly thereafter, Netanyahu made good on his threats by personally refusing to meet with the foreign ministers of the 12 UNSC members that voted for the resolution and ordering his Foreign Ministry to limit all working ties with the embassies of those 12 nations. He also summoned the ambassadors to the Foreign Ministry for a personal reprimand over the vote—including, in a highly unusual move, the U.S. ambassador. He also cut off an aid program to Senegal.

The

The “Swiss Cheese” Kerry was talking about – the West Bank carved up with settlements.

The implications 

Given how late in Obama’s presidency this move comes there are a number of likely consequences, the least likely of which is that Israel will stop building West Bank settlements.

Indeed, as in the past when Israel came under criticism, Netanyahu has promised to flaunt the U.N. resolution and build more. Already Palestinians are complaining about increased security checks and harassment in the West Bank, punishment for their support of the resolution. Nor will this resolution do anything in the short run result in the the creation of a viable Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza or to end the Israeli Occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, as mentioned above, the longest standing illegal (by international law) military occupation of foreign territory in modern history.

For all its limitations there is no reason for cynicism about this U.N Security Council vote. It places Israel squarely in the camp of “rogue states” that it has energetically tried to avoid, and it places, full view, the intolerable Israeli practices in the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem in front of the world unfiltered. Twenty, thirty years of Israeli public relations – otherwise known as propaganda – down the drain. It should come as no surprise that Netanyahu is furious, or as Avnery put it: “He acted like a wounded animal: running berserk, thrashing around, biting everyone in reach.” That’s what happens when your cover is blown.

For all its limitations there is no reason for cynicism about this U.N Security Council vote. It places Israel squarely in the camp of “rogue states” that it has energetically tried to avoid, and it places, full view, the intolerable Israeli practices in the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem in front of the world unfiltered. Twenty, thirty years of Israeli public relations – otherwise known as propaganda – down the drain. It should come as no surprise that Netanyahu is furious, or as Avnery put it: “He acted like a wounded animal: running berserk, thrashing around, biting everyone in reach.” That’s what happens when your cover is blown.

With so little time left, and as a result, so little maneuverability for the Obama Administration to put more than symbolic pressure on Israel, one has to ask the inevitable question: why now? Why not earlier? Had the Obama Administration acted on the settlement question earlier, it is possible that some actual progress towards ending the Occupation might have been achieved, while now already, many objective analysts argue that it is too late, that the two state solution is already dead, killed by an avalanche of settlement activity that continued unabated during Obama’s eight years in office.

There are several keys to why the Obama Administration acted now, among them the changing balance of power in the region, especially as regards to Syria, the announced plans of the new Trump appointee, candidate for U.S. Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman. The widely expressed concern is that the Trump Administration will initiate moving the Israel capitol from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. No U.S. administration, either Democratic or Republican since 1967 has supported such a move, knowing that given the religious significance of Jerusalem to Moslems, Christians and Jews, that such a move could have nothing short of an incendiary result.

In spite of that, Donald Trump and David Friedman have promised to do just that. Furthermore there is a real danger that with Trump Administration support that not only will the settlement practices intensify, but that Israel will outright legally annex the West Bank and let Gaza – a long way along the path to total infrastructural collapse already, just implode. Such moves would deeply undercut U.S. influence throughout the Middle East, among its Arab and Moslem allies who are already more than fed up with American acquiescence to Israel demands, that take on the appearance more often than not of demands that Israel is making of Washington and not visa versa.

There is also the telling fact that just a few months ago, the Obama Administration sealed an agreement with Israel, the largest military aid package in U.S. history that will allocate $38 billion in military aid over the next ten years and this to a country that already has one of the most high tech, sophisticated militaries in the world, that includes a nuclear arsenal of hundreds of weapons. The deal itself is vivid evidence of Israel’s continued value as a U.S. regional security partner of great import. Having assured Israeli military security and tightened the strategic relations between the two countries to such proportions, the Obama Administration argued that Israel’s security fears are exaggerated in the extreme. Was there a kind of deal in the making: major military aid in exchange for Israel progress on a two state solution?

There there are the emerging geo-political considerations pushing the Obama Administration to press the Israelis on settlements in a region where issues are very much inter-related. While not overstating the situation, there is no doubt that with the defeat of ISIS, Al Nusra and their allies at Aleppo, that the balance of power in the Middle East region is shifting and not in a way that benefits Washington or its allies. Old and important allies like Turkey are wavering, Saudi Arabia is keeping its options open and has opened up serious economic relations with Russia. U.S. credibility has been plummeting for some time. Iraq and Libya are collapsed states for all practical purposes; in both cases the U.S. is responsible for these fiascos. While Washington has hidden behind the cloak (or is it veil) of “plausible deniability” for the war against Syria, it doesn’t take much digging to realize that again, it is the Obama Administration that is pulling the strings from behind the scenes. As with Iraq and Libya, the goal is the partition of what was a strong essentially secular state. But this plan has failed.

Given all this, should Israel, with the support of the incoming Trump Administration, make either one or both of the reckless political moves of moving the Israeli capitol to Jerusalem or outright annexing the West Bank, there is the very real danger that all hell will break loose in the Middle East and do so in a way that the Trump Administration, whose foreign policy to date is based on “tweeting”, could not easily control. Obama’s abstention at the U.N. was meant to throw a monkey wrench into the Trump-Friedman program, slow it down enough so that in the end it cannot be implemented and in so doing, save what little bit of prestige and good will is left for the United States in the region. It is not a serious peace initiative that will result in the fading goal of a two state solution, more simply a kind of holding action, damage control meant to prevent Trump and Netanyahu from doing their worst. It remains to be seen whether this will work or not.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Bill Conklin permalink
    December 30, 2016 8:48 am

    Excellent article and it makes a lot of sense. Hopefully the vote is the beginning of positive change but if it simply keeps the worst from happening, it will be useful!

    • Sergio Atallah permalink
      December 30, 2016 3:44 pm

      Hopefully! Ironic though, that after so many years of blunders, that an abstention to spare the bully from being exposed would signal that U.S. intervention in the Middle East would ever be anything other than pathetic.

      • Bill Conklin permalink
        December 30, 2016 4:23 pm

        Totally in agreement! I hope the internet is raising consciousness. If consciousness continues to rise, the genocide committed by the occupiers will become more and more evident.

    • December 30, 2016 3:50 pm

      Hopefully, Bill! Ironic though, that after so many years of blunders, an abstention from sparing the bully would be a sign that U.S. contribution to peace in the Middle East might ever be anything other than pathetic.

  2. December 31, 2016 3:53 am

    I think you mean, “flouted,” not flaunted.

    • December 31, 2016 9:46 am

      thanks…will correct…

      I think either one works though…
      flout = openly disregard
      flaunt = display (something) ostentatiously, especially in order to provoke envy or admiration or to show defiance.

      so..he flaunted and flouted…but as, after your comment, I believe that “flouted” is slightly more accurate than “flaunted,’ I’ll keep the former term per your suggestion.

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