A Palestinian family reacts after Israeli bulldozers demolished their home in the Arab East Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina, Feb. 5, 2013. (AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Newly elected Israeli Knesset member Yair Lapid (l), leader of the Yesh Atid party, speaks to Naftali Bennett, head of the hard-line national religious party the Jewish Home, during a Feb. 5 reception in Jerusalem marking the opening of the 19th Knesset. (URIEL SINAI/GETTY IMAGES)
Richard Curtiss at work in his Washington Report office. (STAFF PHOTO D. HANLEY)
Then-Vice President Dick Cheney (l) and Likud chairman Benyamin Netanyahu, out of office at the time and serving as the official Israeli opposition leader, at a March 23, 2008 breakfast meeting at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. (PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III (r) shares candies with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chief Murad Ebrahim during a Feb. 11 visit to the rebels’ stronghold in Sultan Kudarat on the island of Mindanao. (KARLOS MANLUPIG/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Emad Burnat views his five broken cameras in his documentary of the same name. (PHOTO COURTESY KINO LORBER)
November 2011, Pages 14-15
United Nations Report
Once Again, in Full View of the World, U.S. Acting for Israel, Against Its Own Interests
By Ian Williams
The U.N. vote on Palestine is an oddity. No one can be sure what benefit the Palestinians get from it, and there is good reason to believe that its main current motivation is an earnest desire on the part of President Mahmoud Abbas' administration to show some progress—any progress at all, in fact—from its appeasement to Israel and the U.S.
On one level, the Palestinian move to upgrade its status is the continuation of a long march through international institutions that developed momentum in the 1990s. That upgraded the Palestinian delegation to that of a unique observer mission just fractionally short of statehood, and restated and strengthened resolutions and expressions of international law on the conflict.
But why revive the issue now? Many Palestinians see it as a diversion and a means to shore up a corrupt and compromising administration in the Palestinian Authority—and, contrary to Israeli rhetoric, not as a means to kill Oslo, but to maintain flickers of life in that Zombie-like structure as it shambles toward the mirage of a two-state solution.
However, whatever Abbas' motives, and no matter how inadvertently he has hit the right target, the illogical fury of the Israeli reaction, and the servile echoing of it by the Obama administration, should vindicate him.
Not since the British and Canadians burned the White House in 1813 has American foreign policy been so publicly and humiliatingly trashed. And it is all self-inflicted.
As Obama reminded the international delegates, an American president stood at the podium of the General Assembly in September 2010 and looked forward to welcoming a Palestinian state within the year—but a year later he was ordering his diplomats to join with Israel to take every measure, including abusing the U.S. veto, to thwart the consummation he himself had promised the year before.
This year, Obama restated the administration line: "Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the United Nations...Ultimately, it is the Israelis and the Palestinians who must live side by side. Ultimately, it is the Israelis and the Palestinians—not us—who must reach agreement on the issues that divide them: on borders and on security, on refugees and Jerusalem." He omitted any direct threats or references to the Palestinian application for membership, or even Palestine's attempt to upgrade its status at the U.N.
The diplomatic silence might have avoided irritating the Palestinians, and perhaps slightly camouflaged the humiliation of what is, after all, still the world's biggest military and economic power, pandering to the crazed ideologues of a small rogue state on the opposite side of the world.
The threatened veto rewards a U.S. "ally" which had defied a plea to halt settlement building and had humiliatingly announced a round of illegal construction during a visit by Obama's vice president, Joe Biden.
In return, Washington has lost what little trust it had with the newly enfranchised Arab electorates; alienated major regional powers like Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia; and lost its credibility with the two-thirds or more of U.N. members who have recognized Palestine or indicated an intention to do so.
If Obama does not do enough damage, Congress is likely to cause even more. In the heyday of American power, Congress began to cut funding for the U.N.—over the Palestinian issue. The assumption was that the U.N. needed the U.S. more than vice versa. That is no longer quite as true, and congressional threats to defund the U.N. and its agencies if the members of the organization vote for some form of Palestinian statehood will enhance the damage to American prestige—and leverage—when Washington wants something from the U.N., as it increasingly does. With the parlous state of the U.S. economy and its overstretched military, Washington will indeed be going back to the U.N., but will find it more difficult than ever to get the legitimation it wants and needs.
On the Israeli side, reports of Israeli "diplomacy" suggest that harangues to foreign ambassadors and ministers by right-wing Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman are predictably counterproductive. If countries pay any attention, it is to the American dummy, not the Russian-Israeli ventriloquist, since American power, even rapidly evaporating as it is, is still substantial.
Perhaps the one hint of self-interested lucidity in the White House and State Department is the realization of just how much damage an American veto would do to Washington's standing in the world. However, the efforts to get other countries to "help" by not supporting the Palestinian bid in the Security Council presume a global public that is all of below average intelligence. Widely advertised, the U.S. was hoping to squeeze enough weak links to ensure that the resolution would not get the nine necessary positive votes.
Do Obama and Clinton really think that the rest of the world would not know who had brought about the defeat? Or that those countries dragooned in would not resent being forced to share the blame?
Quite apart from any effects on Palestinians, the U.S. maneuvers can hardly help its professed larger projects in the United Nations: democratization, enhancing the rule of law, and prevention of crimes against humanity. It not only does truth to the rumors of double standards spread so assiduously by sundry dictators and their friends, but if the U.S. were successful in suborning European and other allies, it strips away Washington's credibility when it comes to advocating, for example, the Responsibility to Protect.
In short, not only is there no rational self-interest for the U.S. in thwarting Palestine's efforts, it actually detracts from American interest.
However, it is based on the fatally flawed policy introduced by Bill Clinton, which was to bypass international law and insist that the road to peace lay through bilateral negotiations. So a Sumo wrestler steals the tricycle of a diapered toddler, and the solution is put them in the area together for a fair fight to settle the issue.
Which brings us to the Israeli motivation for combatting this. In the words of Macbeth, the Israeli narrative is "a tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." Certainly Lieberman's harangues to diplomats seem to be counterproductive, not least because they all remember that the Quartet, the U.S. president, the U.N. and even, very grudgingly, Netanyahu himself, all have accepted that the road to peace is a two-state solution, with boundaries based on the pre-1967 armistice line.
So why should the full force of Israeli hasbara, the John Boltons, Eli Wiesels, Alan Dershowitzs and the rest of the crowd, not to mention the full resources of the U.S. State Department, be marshaled against the Palestinian resolution?
To begin with, of course, Netanyahu accepts a Palestinian state the way he would welcome a melanoma. He was only kidding. Many of those screaming behind him would not even pay lip service to the idea. They repudiate the whole idea of a Palestinian state and resent any implication of Palestinian rights in any part of Israel and the territories it illegally occupies. Many such hysterical supporters in the U.S. are also deniers of Obama's American nationality and have campaigned furiously against him and the Democrats, which adds extra poignancy to Obama's pandering to them. They will still hate him.
There is also a rational, albeit cynical, point. A Palestinian state, whether a member of the U.N. or not, can and would be accepted as a state member of the International Criminal Court—indeed its application to sign the Convention establishing it is already under consideration. That has profound implications for Israeli civil and military leaders. While the country that kidnapped Eichmann and brought him to justice has not signed the convention, its citizens would be liable for crimes committed in the West Bank and Gaza if ratification followed statehood.
But there is also an element in the psycho-politics of extreme Zionism which reminds them that they are indeed people of the law. Although the interminable court proceedings about land-grabs and civilian rights invariably lead to ratification of occupation misdeeds, they do go through the process!
One is reminded of some of the evasions of Talmudic exegesis such as the idea that a telephone wire around an area can make it an enclosed part of one's backyard. While the rest of the world regards the territories as occupied, Israel refers to them as "disputed," because, they say, no state had recognized title to them. Of course, a Palestinian state would unravel any notional telephone wire the courts might hitherto have accepted around the boundary.
In the end, one does have to wonder what the Palestinians as people get out of the U.N. bid. But certainly, the embarrassment it has caused to Obama and Clinton have made them take Palestinian positions more seriously than they have in the past, while removing any residual illusions that some Palestinian leaders might have that the U.S. is an honest broker in the conflict.
Obama, reportedly, shares the detestation that most reasonable people have for Netanyahu, so one can only welcome anything that makes the partnership more uncomfortable for him.
Ian Williams is a free-lance journalist based at the United Nations and has a blog at <www.deadlinepundit.blogspot.com>.