The letter states:
The time has come for a clear signal from the United States to the parties and to the broader international community that the United States can and will approach the conflict with the objectivity, consistency and respect for international law required if it is to play a constructive role in the conflict’s resolution.
While a UNSC resolution will not resolve the issue of settlements or prevent further Israeli construction activity in the Occupied Territory, it is an appropriate venue for addressing these issues and for putting all sides on notice that the continued flouting of international legality will not be treated with impunity. Nor would such a resolution be incompatible with or challenge the need for future negotiations to resolve all outstanding issues, and it would in no way deviate from our strong commitment to Israel’s security.
The administration has made clear that it doesn’t currently support the resolution, even though it essentially reiterates the administration’s own stated position on settlements. As Tony Karon points out, the Palestinians taking the issue to the UN (again) is clearly “a vote of no-confidence in U.S. peacemaking efforts.”
While it would be great if the Arab states would put half as much time into supporting Palestinian reconciliation and state-building as they put into these kinds of UN gestures, it’s important to keep in mind that the settlement issue is not simply a matter of concern between the Palestinians, Israel, and the U.S. Stopping their construction is not some favor the U.S. is asking of an ally (even though Israel already committed to do so under the 2003 Road Map), but a matter of international law regarding the administration of occupied territory.
As former Palestinian peace negotiator Hanan Ashrawi writes in the International Herald Tribune today, “It is universally recognized that Israeli settlements are illegal under international law, and that without a full cessation of all settlement activity, Palestinian-Israeli negotiations and the two-state solution are both doomed.”
This is not rocket science. Settlements are built on occupied Palestinian land. They also entail the exploitation of Palestine’s natural resources, including water. Both belong to a future Palestinian state. Without them, no Palestinian state can be viable.
The true impact of Israeli settlements is measured not only by the way they undermine the two-state solution; it is also the enormous damage they inflict on countless Palestinian communities.
There’s been a very active campaign by conservatives to downplay the significance of the settlements, but such arguments are unconvincing to anyone who’s actually visited the territories and and observed the deleterious impact on Palestinian life that’s required for the settlements’ ongoing growth, maintenance, and security. While it’s true that the settlements are only one of a number of key issues bedeviling negotiations, more than any other, it’s the issue that can — and will, if they haven’t already — make the two-state solution into an idea whose time has passed.