Global Policy Forum

Shooting Ourselves in the Foot at the UN

A Media Matters Action Network article argues that US opposition to any Security Council resolution recognizing Palestinian statehood is not only immoral but also alienating and a threat to US security. The decision to send Dennis Ross to the region in a last-ditch attempt to avert a UN vote further demonstrates that the Obama administration is not dedicated to advancing Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy, but rather placating the Israel lobby. Standing with Netanyahu at the General Assembly will further damage international perceptions of US motivations in the Middle East.

By MJ Rosenberg

September 8, 2011 

It is amusing watching the usual suspects — including those in the Obama administration — announce their opposition to the United Nations resolution that would grant the Palestinians their long-sought state. 

Some of the opposition comes from the lobby and its congressional cutouts who are dedicated to preserving the status quo (i.e., the occupation). The Obama administration surely has a far more nuanced position but is terrified at the prospect of challenging the lobby as it faces a tough re-election campaign.

In any case, the United States looks utterly helpless. The Palestinians no longer view President Obama as an honest broker. Having watched him back down after every attempt to bring Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to the peace table, they view Obama as no different from his most recent predecessor.

As for the Israeli leadership, it openly disrespects the president. Netanyahu, like most bullies, is only impressed by those who bully him right back. Obama's repeated capitulations win him no points with Netanyahu, who believed from day one that Obama could be rolled. He has been proven right while his many dovish critics at home — who insisted that there would be a price to be paid for disrespecting the United States — look like Nervous Nellies.

It is the United States that is paying the price, not Israel.

Look at how the Obama administration is handling the upcoming U.N. vote. This week, in a last ditch attempt to avert a U.N. vote, the administration dispatched Dennis Ross, the National Security Council official in charge of Arab-Israeli affairs, to the region, along with David Hale, who is filling in as Special Envoy to the region following the resignation (in disgust) of George Mitchell.

Hale is a respected foreign policy professional, but both Palestinians and Israelis know that Ross is the guy who matters. He is also the official responsible for the administration's failure to make any headway on Israel-Palestinian issues since coming to office.

That is not because Ross is inept; he isn't. But he is a true-blue supporter of right-wing Israeli policies, best known for, between government jobs, having led AIPAC's own think tank, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

More than any administration official since Elliot Abrams — in the George W. Bush administration — Ross believes that the United States must never publicly differ with the Israeli government about anything. (Apparently it was Ross who devised Vice President Biden's pledge that there must be "no daylight, no daylight" between Israeli and U.S. policies. 

Dispatching Ross to talk to Palestinians and Israelis about the U.N. vote demonstrates that the administration is just going through the motions on Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy. After all, the Palestinians don't trust Ross at all and the Israelis know that he is fully on their side. Ross brings nothing new to the table and certainly nothing to induce the Palestinians to forego their statehood initiative. 

If the United States was dedicated to advancing diplomacy rather than reassuring the lobby, it would pressure Netanyahu to return to negotiations based on the '67 lines (as has been the case with all previous negotiations), with a settlement freeze as a form of earnest money. In return, the Palestinians would drop its U.N. initiative. Unfortunately, that won't happen because the lobby (and its friend, Dennis Ross) will not permit pressure on Israel, just on the Palestinians — who have been warned that if they go ahead with the vote, they will lose U.S. aid.

So it looks like there will be a U.N. vote and the United States will be among the few nations in the world to vote "no." Not even Mahmoud Abbas' repeated assurance that his first act following the vote will be to open negotiations with Israel will have an impact on the U.S. position. No, we will stand with Netanyahu even though internationally the perception that the U.S. and Israel are joined at the hip is the last thing any president wants.

But let's not give up hope. This weekend is the 10th anniversary of 9/11, a particularly inauspicious time for the Obama administration to look like Netanyahu's puppet. 

This is not to say that the terrorists who would love to strike America again are seriously concerned about the Palestinians. They aren't. But America's seeming hostility to the Palestinians and our "no daylight" alliance with Israel gives them a convenient pretense to commit terrorism. And it gives the vast majority of the people in the Middle East, who are fighting against both Al-Qaeda and their Western-backed dictators, further reason to question our motivations in the region. 

The Palestinian issue is the one issue on which all Muslims are united. No matter whether they are Saudis or Iranians, Indonesians or Afghans, the one issue that brings Muslims together is the belief that the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza are terrible wrongs, supported by the United States. (Muslims aren't the only ones who feel this way, as will be demonstrated by the overwhelming vote for the Palestinian statehood resolution that the U.S. and Israel will stand virtually alone in opposing.)

The Obama administration should keep that in mind when it decides how it will handle the vote. Promoting the two-state solution, starting with a vote FOR a Palestinian state at the U.N., is not only the moral thing to do — just as it was when the U.S. supported Israel's statehood at the U.N. in 1947 — but it is also the right thing to do from the standpoint of America's security. For Israel's sake, for the Palestinians', and for our own, the President should tell the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. to vote "yes.”


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