UNSC 2334, Kerry’s Speech, and Two States

In the days since UNSC approved Resolution 2334, I’ve been puzzled, though not surprised, by the hyperbolic Israeli government reaction.

Starting with Richard Nixon, every US president has abstained or even supported substantive UNSC resolutions that Israel opposed and protested. Sometimes a president did so in multiple cases during his administration. The US abstention on December 23, 2016, was part of a decades-long pattern of US voting at the UNSC: usually support the Israeli position with a veto but on occasion abstain or vote yes.

Instead, this current disagreement is mostly about a left-wing US government and a right-wing Israeli government that both support strong US-Israeli ties but disagree on two central policy issues – two states/peace process and Iran’s nuclear program – and that disagreement has shaped their relationship in a very negative fashion.

I also suspect that Prime Minister Netanyahu doesn’t have much use for bipartisan US support for US-Israeli ties. The GOP would love to use the Israel issues as a wedge to drive some American Jewish Democrats to vote GOP. Netanyahu, e.g. the speech to Congress, seems happy to help. (Which seems counter-productive for Israel, not the GOP, but his choice.)

If you like the status quo, support settlements, and want to prevent a two-state solution, by all means oppose Obama and Kerry. Because the UNSC resolution and Kerry’s speech favor two states, Israel and Palestine, living in peace and that would require some settlements to be withdrawn and the Israeli occupation to end.

I get that pro-settlements people are upset with a UNSC resolution, not the first, which says settlements have “no legal validity.” But I think if you have been listening to US officials over the decades, you would notice a pattern of displeasure with and rejection of continued settlement expansion. This is not the first time over the last fifty years the United States has called settlements illegal or having no legal validity. But even calling settlements obstacles to peace or illegitimate, and saying settlements must stop now, are not exactly friendly verbiage.

How long can the United States still essentially say we’ll defer comment on the legality of settlements and let the parties, Israel and the Palestinians, negotiate a mutual resolution of the settlements question when there is no diplomatic process, little hope of one starting anytime soon, and important members of the Israeli government are calling for annexation of the West Bank?

Israel can try to win allies, or at least trading partners, all over the world, but the UNSC vote demonstrates those states don’t suddenly forget about settlements and occupation. (Relations with China, New Zealand and Russia, all of whom voted YES at the UNSC, are perfect illustrations). If that is an enduring combination, Israel will periodically pay a diplomatic price for avoiding a two-state solution and instead embracing occupation. I tend to think that price is manageable in global affairs, though many others disagree with me and think it will be a very heavy price. I think the heavier cost will be in repeated violent confrontations with the Palestinians as long as Palestinian self-determination is stymied.

I do wonder if Netanyahu’s tantrum made the situation worse for Israel. It makes the UNSC resolution seem bigger and more important and powerful than it would have been if he had given a short, calm speech that said, ‘We reject yet another UNSC resolution. Happy Hanukah, pass the latkes.’

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