Veto of Israeli Settlement Resolution Puts U.S. on Wrong Side of History

When U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice thrust a solitary American arm into the air last Friday to cast the Obama Administration’s first-ever Security Council veto in defense of Israel’s illegal settlements, the United States regrettably placed itself squarely on the wrong side of history as movements for freedom and democracy revolutionize the Middle East.

This veto -- the fortieth cast by the United States since 1967 in defense of Israel’s illegal military occupation of Arab lands and the illegal policies it pursues to maintain it -- represents much more than the United States yet again acting to shield Israel from accountability for its blatant violations of international law.

The 14-1 veto of the mildly-worded draft resolution reaffirming that Israel’s settlements in the occupied Palestinian West Bank and East Jerusalem “are illegal and constitute a major obstacle to the achievement of a just, lasting and comprehensive peace” laid bare the contradictions in the Obama Administration’s approach to Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking. It revealed the growing isolation and irrelevancy of the United States in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the basis of international law. The vote also demonstrated the failure of U.S. diplomacy to adapt to a new Middle East in which grassroots movements increasingly demand that governments are held accountable to human rights standards.

The U.S. veto exposed an Obama Administration deeply confused about how to pursue Israeli-Palestinian peace. Having spent its first two years in office decrying Israeli settlement activity -- President Obama stated in his June 2009 address to the Muslim world in Cairo that “The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements” -- and pushing for its cessation to set the right tone for a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, the United States found itself hard-pressed to explain its veto.

Paradoxically, Rice reserved the Obama Administration’s harshest condemnation of Israeli settlements to explain the U.S. veto, affirming that “we reject in the strongest terms the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity,” which she termed “folly.”

If Israeli settlements are “folly” and the Obama Administration continues to accept the validity of a 1978 State Department legal memorandum concluding that Israeli settlements are “inconsistent with international law,” then the only rational explanation for deploying the U.S. veto is to attempt to keep Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking under the sole purview of the United States. While the patron is allowed to criticize its client, like an over-indulgent parent brooding over its spoiled child, it will countenance no outside criticism.

In all likelihood, Palestinians pushed ahead with the draft Security Council resolution -- despite last-minute bargaining efforts by the United States for a compromise Security Council presidential statement and reported U.S. threats to cut aid to the Palestinian Authority -- to test its new-found hypothesis that a U.S.-led “peace process” cannot succeed due to the inherent biases of U.S. policy.

The Palestine Papers -- 1,600 documents, maps, and minutes from Israeli-Palestinian negotiations leaked to Al Jazeera from within the Palestinian negotiating team -- demonstrate conclusively that regardless of the occupant in the White House, the United States is far from being the “honest broker” it claims to be. The papers reveal the United States bending over backwards to understand and accommodate Israeli considerations and limitations, while dismissing Palestinian concerns and twisting their arms to accept Israel’s demands.

The embarrassment caused by the Palestine Papers resulted in the resignation of long-time lead Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat. But the fallout is such that reportedly no Palestinian can now be found to accept the position of negotiator as supplicant. Furthermore, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has disbanded the Negotiations Support Unit, which provided research and position papers to the Palestinian negotiating team.

The Palestinian decision to dismantle its negotiating infrastructure and to take its case directly to the international community is the logical outcome of its frustration with two decades of a U.S.-sponsored “peace process” that yielded neither an end to Israel’s colonization of Palestinian land nor the attainment of Palestinian rights.

Amid the ferment of freedom and democracy movements sweeping the Middle East from Morocco to Bahrain, the United States finds itself a spectator -- unwilling to take sides between protesters and governments -- to the teetering and downfall of U.S.-backed autocratic regimes. No wonder then that Palestinians have concluded that they no longer have to tether their hopes for freedom from Israeli occupation to U.S. leadership.

The U.S. veto of the Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements reinforces how anachronistic and out-of-step U.S. policy is with both the aspirations of people in the Middle East and with the international community’s unanimous approach toward resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The United States must place itself on the right of history by ending its diplomatic support for Israel’s colonization and occupation of Palestinian land.

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