It has become something of a sad and pathetic ritual at the UN Security Council. Other countries, including European ones, try to craft a resolution to try to get Israel to change its destructive and self-destructive course and the US uses its veto power, or the threat of using it, to make sure the resolution is never passed.
The scene has been played out so many times that it is fair to ask why anyone is even making a big deal about it this time. The Palestinians conferred with other countries, some on the Security Council, and pieced together a resolution which should be uncontroversial. It condemns Israeli settlement activity as illegal and calls for a halt of such activity and renewed efforts toward ending the occupation and creating a viable Palestinian state.
No country, including the United States though excepting Israel, disagrees with that stance in any measure. That, however, has been true of many resolutions the United States has vetoed in the past. And those vetoes have frequently employed the same, horribly weak excuse: “We do not feel the Security Council is the place to resolve these issues.”
That contention is absurd on its face, as MJ Rosenberg points out. The UNSC is precisely the place where violations of international law need to be dealt with, and it is also the body that bears the most responsibility for keeping the peace in the world. If this is not what the UNSC is for, then what purpose does it serve?
But this has all been true in the past. Yet there is something different in the air today as the US veto looms.
And loom it does. We hear that loud and clear in the testimony Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg gave to the House of Representatives on February 10: “We have made very clear that we do not think the Security Council is the right place to engage on these issues…We have had some success, at least for the moment, in not having that arise there. And we will continue to employ the tools that we have to make sure that continues to not happen.”
The ridiculously poor grammar aside, Steinberg’s words are almost certain to mean that the US will use its veto, if it comes to that. It would likely prefer not to, and is still hoping the resolution will be withdrawn. But one way or another, the US will make sure this resolution does not pass.
Yes, this veto is different, but not because something has changed in the US. Indeed, it is precisely the fact that nothing has changed in the US while the rest of the world has seen some dramatic changes that is the problem.
The US remains mired in a bog of Mideast policy thinking that sees every issue through the lens of an Israel-first view. Israel, for its part has remained locked into its rightward two-step while the region and the world around it are going through massive changes.
The formula of bilateral negotiations as the only path to a solution to this conflict has been exposed by the Palestine Papers for the sham it has been for years. The massive concessions the Palestinians offered was met with the chirping of crickets by the Olmert government and Netanyahu then wanted to start the whole negotiation from scratch. When revealed, these facts, already well-known in policy and advocacy circles, revealed not only Israeli intransigence but also that the terms the Palestinian negotiators (now out of work) were not acceptable to most Palestinians.
More than this, there is the increasing wave of popular uprising in the Arab world. Egypt is the tip of the iceberg, as we are seeing in recent days. Now, two things are true about these protests spreading like wildfire from one Arab state to another: they are not about Israel and the Palestinians and they are about domestic issues, political and economic, in the Arab world.
But another thing is also true, and that is that what Arabs are demanding throughout the Middle East is leadership that is responsive to their concerns. Palestine may not be first on that list, but it’s not a minor issue either.
The reason Israel was concerned about the Egyptian revolt, at least in the heart of the government which has reports and intelligence about Egyptian society, is not that they were worried about a Muslim Brotherhood takeover. That is just a scare tactic, because Israeli intelligence is surely efficient enough to know that’s not a realistic possibility. No, they are worried that a more responsive Egyptian (or Jordanian, Saudi, Algerian, Tunisian, Moroccan et al) government will no longer be willing to play the “peace process game” and will demand real action on ending the Israeli occupation of the West bank, the siege of Gaza, the status of the Golan Heights and on sharing Jerusalem.
No one knows how things in Egypt or any other country will shake out. There remain many possibilities in each state. But the protests have clearly established that future governments cannot act so clearly against the will of the people with impunity anymore. There is a great deal of national and ethnic pride in Arab culture and the view of, for example, Hosni Mubarak as a willing stooge of the USA and partner with Israel in the siege of Gaza and occupation more generally was certainly a factor in the popular anger against him, even if it wasn’t the biggest one. It will be one of the easier ones for his successors, whomever they may be, to address.
No, Egypt won’t, in all likelihood, abrogate its treaty with Israel, but it will also no longer cooperate with the siege of Gaza and the cold peace will grow colder. And that will be an example to the whole region.
The United States needs to adjust to this new reality, all the more so since Israel seems to be absolutely refusing to do so. But rather than facing the new reality and putting American foreign policy interests at the forefront, Barack Obama, in what has become all too typically a craven fashion for him, continues to see Mideast policy primarily through the lens of domestic, interest group politics rather than American foreign policy interests, let alone in terms of human rights and justice.
Obama, Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton and the whole crew have bungled the current events terribly. They have used weasel-words in extremely tepid support for Arabs struggling for freedom from US-backed dictators; they’ve denied that obvious totalitarians like Mubarak are even dictators at all; they’ve cynically used the Arab revolts at their convenience when they can criticize very real Iranian hypocrisy on the matter, a hypocrisy ridiculously dwarfed by their own. None of this has escaped the notice of the people of the Arab world.
Obama once had the potential to raise the Arab view of the US, which George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq and other policies had brought to an all-time low. He now threatens to bring it even lower with Arab disappointment with what at least some may have thought to be “change they can believe in.”
The UN resolution and the US veto will not be the thing that is remembered in future years as a newly independent Arab world looks to growing powers in Asia and established ones in Europe rather than to the US for friendship and alliance. But it may well be a pivotal moment in the process of increasing American irrelevance in the region.
The US will still have Israel. It will be an Israel increasingly isolated, which is likely to be viewed increasingly poorly in Europe and which will continue to be visiting massive oppression on Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. The US and Israel will have each other, in other words, to the massive detriment of both countries.