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Reaction to U.S. Veto of UNSC Resolution on Israeli Settlements

Middle East In Focus

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Over the weekend, the United States vetoed a resolution before the UN Security Council condemning Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories after failing to convince the Palestinian government to withdraw it. The veto came despite support for the resolution from the 14 other members of the Security Council, including the four permanent members. The Obama administration explained its opposition: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the prospects for peace would be damaged by any action taken at the UNSC. The reaction to the U.S. veto in both Israel and in the wider region shows that the U.S. position is becoming increasingly untenable in the face of changes in the Arab world.

The Palestinian leadership were measured in their reaction to the U.S. veto. According to the Palestinian news agency Wafa, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said, “’Palestinian diplomacy has achieved a true victory when 14 member states of the United Nations Security Council voted in favor of a resolution condemning Israeli settlements in the Palestinian Territory. The United States was the only dissenting vote, which has killed the resolution....’ Abbas said the Palestinian leadership came under immense pressure in the past two days, ‘but our concern for the interest of the Palestinian people was bigger than all pressures.’”

Others, however, were less diplomatic in their reaction, with condemnation of the U.S. veto coming from various quarters of the Palestinian political spectrum. Again, according to Wafa, “Bassam Salhi, Secretary General of the People’s Party, said on Sunday that the USA lost its credibility as a peace broker by using the veto against the resolution condemning settlements in the Occupied Territory. Salhi pointed out in a press conference in Ramallah that the USA veto turned America into an ally of Israel, adding that the peace process should be dealt with only within UN parameters.”

Likewise, Wafa reports in another story, “The General Union of Palestinian Women expressed deep resentment of the U.S. veto against the anti-settlement resolution in the Palestinian Territory....Marwan Barghouti, jailed member of the Palestinian Parliament, insisted that the U.S. veto is considered a crime against Palestinian rights, Arab rights and against humanity....The National Society for Democracy and Law considered the U.S. veto a violation of all laws and charters that consider the Palestinian Territory an occupied land; i.e. its status can’t be harmed, its people must not be expelled, and they have the right to self-determination and establishing their own independent state.”

Kuwait Times reports of Palestinians protests in Ramallah with banners carrying signs saying “No to negotiations with Israeli settlements and American arrogance.” The report goes on to say, “Tawfiq Terawi, [a] Fatah central committee member, said the demonstration sent two important messages. ‘First, when all the Arab people are demonstrating against their leaders, the Palestinian people comes today to support its brave leadership's decision.’  Second, it exposes America's ‘false claim that it is the country of freedom, as it officially announces its support for the occupation and settlements and the oppression and injustice against our people.’”

In Jordan Times, Raed Omari reports, “Jordan on Sunday ‘regretted’ the U.S. decision to veto a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlement construction in the Palestinian territories. During Sunday's Parliament session, Prime Minister Marouf Bakhit said the entire international community shares such a stand against the U.S. move, ‘which contradicts its declared stand that deems Israeli settlement construction illegitimate and negatively affects the U.S. credibility as a peace partner.’”

Pundits and commentators in the media were even more direct about the significance of the U.S. veto, especially in the context of the developments in the region over the last few weeks. Tony Karon opines in the Emirates daily The National, “The Arab rebellion appears to have finally called time on the illusion that endless conversations with U.S. officials and Israeli leaders is going to end the occupation. Whether or not Mr. Abbas shares that view, the spirit of Tahrir Square will likely see growing numbers of Palestinians taking to the streets to demand their freedom from Israeli occupation, which most of the world supports, regardless of whether that suits the U.S. Indeed, the February 18 vote at the United Nations may just herald a Palestinian declaration of independence — from Washington.”

The Gulf News carries an article by Bouthaini Shaaban, who also condemns the U.S. veto: “The importance of what is happening today in the Arab world is the fall of the colonial dimension of the official regime, which has ignored the crimes against humanity in Palestine while the American Administration was drafting its 39th veto against the Arabs to prevent a mere condemnation of Israeli colony-building, which is an eternal shame for western ‘democracies'....The most recent American veto, like tens of other vetoes against the Arabs, contributed to the perpetuation of Israeli suppression of the Palestinian people, colonizing their land, expelling and condemning them to life in refugee camps.”

Some of the sharpest criticism of the U.S. veto has come from Israeli commentators or those closely associated with Israel. For example, MJ Rosenberg writes in Al Jazeera, “It is not hard to explain the Obama administration's decision to veto a resolution embodying positions that we support. It is the power of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which is lobbying furiously for a U.S. veto.…The power of the lobby is the only reason we will veto the resolution.…Simply put, our Middle East policy is all about domestic politics. And not even the incredible events of the past month will change that. That is why U.S. standing in the Middle East will continue to deteriorate.”

Akiva Eldar expresses his “thanks” to President Obama for showing his true colors, suggesting that “[t]he decision by 2010 Nobel Peace laureate, Barack Obama, to veto a resolution urging Israel to refrain from activities deemed subversive to peace efforts represents a victory of domestic politics over foreign policy in the world's leading superpower. The lame excuse that denunciation of construction in the settlements would harm ‘the peace process’ constitutes a victory of opportunism over morality.”

The Haaretz editorial also hints at the importance of U.S. Congressional support for the policies of the state of Israel but cautions that, while “[t]he Palestinians lost the vote, [they] achieved their goal: They exposed for all to see the international isolation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's administration and embarrassed the U.S. administration by revealing it as two-faced....Once again, the American superpower appeared to lose some of its prestige and international standing in order to defend the Israeli settlement enterprise, which enjoys the support of powerful patrons in Congress....Netanyahu celebrated his victory over Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, but he should view the U.S. veto as a warning. The world's patience over continuing construction in the settlements is wearing thin.”

Yaron London also suggests in the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot that Israel must prepare for a world where U.S. power no longer can guarantee Israel’s safety: “The result of the UN Security Council vote on condemning Jewish settlements in the occupied territories highlights the diplomatic weakness of our patron, the United States....The votes to take place at the UN will prove America’s declining diplomatic power. Some 140 states will condemn Israel’s conduct, and it is doubtful whether even 10 countries will endorse Israel. We are relying on a sinking superpower that is abandoning its pretenses to lead the world, educate it in line with its values, punish the rogue elements and pamper those that toe the line.”

The harshest criticism however came from Jerusalem Post commentators, who see a U.S. administration less willing to accommodate Israeli security interests. Caroline Glick writes that U.S. mixed signals prior to the UN Security Council vote can be devastating for Israel. “While no one can say with certainty what the future will bring to the radically altered Middle Eastern landscape, it is becoming increasingly apparent that U.S. influence over events here will be dramatically diminished....Friday’s Security Council vote marked a new peak in the Fatah-controlled, U.S.-sponsored Palestinian Authority’s political war against Israel. The war’s aim is to delegitimize the Jewish state in order to foment its collapse on the model of apartheid South Africa.”

A similar sentiment is expressed by Isi Leibler, also writing in the Jerusalem Post, who suggests that President Obama, “despite his groveling to the Palestinians before and after the UN Security Council resolution, was ultimately obliged to exercise the U.S. veto for the first time since he gained office. He did so only out of a realization that he would have faced widespread condemnation from Congress and even his own party had he failed to do so. But our problems will intensify in the months to come. It is chilling to contemplate how the administration may seek to “balance” its veto by imposing new pressures on Israel, which could soon be facing rejectionist states on most of its borders.


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Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: http://mepc.org/articles-commentary/articles-hub. Comments and feedback are welcome at info@mepc.org.