While the United States was always isolated from the rest of the international community in terms of its ardent and unshakable support of Israel, in the last few weeks it has only succeeded in pushing itself further into isolation.
On September 23, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas appealed to the UN for Palestinian statehood. The Security Council is now discussing the proposal for statehood, but the U.S. has promised to veto any Palestinian statehood bid, and this response is an embarrassment.
The U.S. believes that the statehood bid is an attempt to sidestep the peace process and has pushed for negotiations between the Israelis and PA without preconditions — echoing the demands of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. President Barack Obama declared in his speech last week, “peace is hard work … there is no shortcut to a conflict that has spanned for decades,” as if the Palestinians, who have suffered decades under an illegal foreign military occupation, did not know how hard it was.
The embarrassment of the U.S. position has been compounded in just the past few days, as the world has seen the “grateful” Israeli response to America's ardent support and defense of its position. The Israeli government just approved 1100 new housing units in East Jerusalem.
There are some who would argue that Israel’s approving of new homes in East Jerusalem is a natural response to Palestine's unilateral declaration of statehood. But this is faulty — even while negotiations were being carried out (whether it be during Oslo or more recent times), settlements and settlers flooding Palestinian territory never ceased.
Moreover, it is important to look at the nature of the statehood bid to gain a good assessment of why the American defense of Israel is quite radical.
Abbas is proposing recognition of a state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem which would exist alongside Israel, following the two state solution framework.
In his speech to the UN, he declared the willingness of the PA to resume negotiations with Israel as long as settlement activity ceased, a demand made by Obama just last year. Abbas did not declare that there would be an expectation of Israel to implement international law but rather stated that these resolutions should just be “terms of reference” for future negotiations. He said that negotiations over core issues could continue as long as there were “clear parameters” and a “specific timetable;” the incremental approach of the past two decades.
By virtue of UN 242 and Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, Israel is required to withdraw from all occupied territory, and dismantle settlements. Under UN 194, the right of return must be implemented and Palestinian refugees must be given the right to return to their homes at the earliest practicable date, and it is up to each individual Palestinian to choose whether they exercise this right.
These rights were not enumerated as being unconditional in Abbas’ speech. Despite these concessions on Palestinian rights, the U.S. maintained that it will veto the recognition of a Palestinian state and will not honor the request of the PA to commence negotiations only when settlement activity has halted.
So why such a strong U.S. opposition to such a strong endorsement by Abbas of the U.S.-Israeli framework for peace? Some have speculated that this is a result of Obama catering to the Israeli lobby, and being worried about votes in the upcoming election. Others have speculated that there is a general belief that negotiations are the only way to end the conflict, because both parties must agree on a solution. However, if that is the case, why can’t the negotiations be conditioned by such a minimal request as halting settlement activity?
There is no good answer to this question, and it is one that has been repeatedly asked for decades. What is important to note is that U.S. policy has not changed one bit.
If the U.S. goes along with its plan to veto the statehood bid, it will be the 43rd time that it has exercised its veto in defense of Israel. What makes this episode in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict different is that the situation has changed since the beginning of Oslo. The Palestinians, have experienced a blockade of Gaza, two wars, repeated land confiscations, multiplication of settlements, and the deterioration of the refugee situation. U.S. policy remains the same, despite the direness of the Palestinian situation, and the more emphatic call in the international community for concrete actions from Israel towards realizing the creation of a Palestinian state.
Now, more than ever, the hypocrisy of the U.S. has been showcased to the world — Obama has come out in support of democratic opposition in various countries around the Middle East as the Arab Spring has unfolded, yet he has refused to show that support for the Palestinian people. As Jonathan Cook wrote in The National, if the statehood bid had one success it was the “fatal discrediting of the U.S. as an arbiter for peace.”
Photo Credit: Justin Mcintosh