The United Nations Security Council was scheduled to vote today (Thursday, December 22) on an Egyptian-sponsored resolution on Israeli settlement activity.
Egypt, the Arab representative on the Security Council right now, pulled the resolution this morning, so there will be no vote. There are several mysteries here, including why Egypt did that, and how President Obama planned to vote: yes, abstain, or veto.
First, it’s important to realize just how bad the resolution was. Here’s part: The Security Council–
■ “Reaffirms that the establishment by Israel of settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-state solution.”
■ “Reiterates its demand that Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem.”
■ “Calls upon all States, to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967.”
Why is this so bad? The first paragraph above calls all settlement activity illegal under international law. That could have an impact in Europe and elsewhere in how Israeli settlers and officials are treated. Are they all criminals? Can they be brought before the International Criminal Court? Prosecuted in local courts?
The second paragraph refers to East Jerusalem, and suggests that all Israeli housing construction must stop–even including construction in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. That’s madness.
The third paragraph above, treating everything beyond the old “Green Line” or 1949 armistice line as illegal and demanding that all states do so, begs for boycotts. It logically means that any product from East Jerusalem, the Golan, or the West Bank be boycotted and prevented from being sold.
So it would be a terrible, unfair, unbalanced resolution and one with the potential to damage Israel. That’s one reason an American veto should have been automatic–but it wasn’t. The Obama administration refused to say whether it would veto, and I’ve been told by some well-informed journalists that it would not have vetoed. This would have been Mr. Obama’s parting shot after eight years of tension with Israel. Refusal to veto would also have violated decades of American policy that calls for direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations as the only way forward to peace.
The President-Elect recognized this, and Mr. Trump said
The resolution being considered at the United Nations Security Council regarding Israel should be vetoed. As the United States has long maintained, peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians will only come through direct negotiations between the parties and not through the imposition of terms by the United Nations. This puts Israel in a very poor negotiating position and is extremely unfair to all Israelis.
I had actually thought Mr. Obama would veto, because a refusal to do so would certainly do damage to his party–a party that has suffered electoral defeats at the congressional and state level throughout his presidency. But if the information I received was right, he was more interested in departing with another smack at Israel.
The remaining question is why President Sisi withdrew the resolution. Press reports all say it was Israeli pressure, which is a negative way of saying he did so because he values Egyptian-Israeli bilateral relations and was asked to pull the resolution by Prime Minister Netanyahu. That’s a good thing; the United States should itself value cooperative Israeli-Egyptian relations. Others have suggested that Sisi wanted to avoid a confrontation with the incoming Trump administration, which was clearly against this text. That’s also a good thing.
But note this: none of the news stories suggest the Egyptians acted because of the Obama administration. Just as with the Russian-Turkish-Iranian meeting to discuss Syria (The New York Times’s story began “Russia, Iran, and Turkey met in Moscow on Tuesday to work toward a political accord to end Syria’s nearly six-year war, leaving the United States on the sidelines….”), the Obama administration apparently played no role in Egypt’s decisions. In large part this is because the Obama administration has left friends confused as its objectives and foes without fear of consequences for opposing the United States. Defenders of the administration will say it’s just lame duck status that explains the lack of concern for the wishes of the White House, but I can’t agree. At the very end of the George W. Bush administration, there was a vigorous negotiation in the Security Council over a resolution on the fighting in Gaza, and the United States was at the center of it–right up into January, 2009. Now it’s December, 2016 and we are being ignored. That’s the result of eight years of policy choices, not lame duck status.