Last month, a number of prominent scholars, activists, and former U.S. diplomats signed an open letter to President Obama urging him to support an upcoming U.N. Security Council “resolution condemning Israeli settlements” in the internationally recognized Palestinian territories. The letter warned that vetoing the resolution would “severely undermine US credibility and interests, placing us firmly outside of the international consensus, and further diminishing our ability to mediate this conflict.”
Yet yesterday, as the resolution appeared to be heading to passage, the Obama administration directed its delegation at the United Nations to veto it, killing any official U.N. condemnation of Israel’s colonization practices in the Palestinian territories. Obama’s ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, said that while the veto didn’t mean that the U.S. approved of the Israeli settlements policy, that it issued the veto anyway because the resolution would risk “hardening the positions of both sides and could encourage the parties to say out of negotiations“:
The Obama administration wielded its first veto at the UN security council last night in a move to swipe down a resolution condemning Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory.
The US stood alone among the 15 members of the security council in failing to condemn the resumption of settlement building that has caused a serious rift between the Israeli government and the Palestinian authority and derailed attempts to kick-start the peace process. [...]
The US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, said the decision to use the veto power – open to the five permanent members of the UN, of which the US is one – “should not be misunderstood to mean we support settlement activity”.
She said Washington’s view was that the Israeli settlements lacked legitimacy, but added: “Unfortunately, this draft resolution risks hardening the positions of both sides and could encourage the parties to stay out of negotiations.”
The argument that the U.S. is using for vetoing the resolution does not seem to hold up against history. The United States has used its veto power 33 times before the recent veto in order to sink Security Council resolutions critical of Israel, and the peace process is as beleaguered as ever. The Obama administration previously offered $3 billion worth of “security incentives and fighter jets” to the Israelis in order to get a 90-day extension of Israel’s freezing of its settlements policy, which did little to soften the overall Israeli negotiating line.
Additionally, the recently leaked “Palestine Papers” show that Palestinian negotiators based in the West Bank regularly offered sweeping compromises and concessions to the Israelis without getting any sort of concessions in return. If anything, it appears that the decades-long U.S. policy of subsidizing Israeli transgressions without applying any sort of pressure to the country is a dismal failure.
But what may be most alarming of all about the U.S. veto is its long-lasting ramifications. At the last moment, Palestinian negotiators at the U.N. decided to go ahead and bring up the resolution despite intense pressure from Washington to pull back. After the draft resolution was vetoed, both the Fatah governing coalition in the West Bank and Gaza’s Hamas rulers have called for demonstrations against the U.S., with some high officials even calling for an end to the U.S.-led peace process, no longer believing that the country is capable of being a “fair mediator“:
Tawfik Al-Tirawi, also a member of Fatah’s Central Committee, called on the Palestinians to observe next Friday as “a day of rage” and demonstrations in the Palestinian territories to condemn the US vote against the resolution. Yasser Abed Rabbo, secretary-general of the PLO’s Executive Committee, said that after the US vote, the Palestinians won’t consider the Americans a fair mediator in the peace process. [...]
Hamas said the US veto was “arbitrary.” Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman [...] called on the Palestinian Authority to cease negotiations and liaison with Israel. “Let’s start a new phase to empower the internal Palestinian unity.”
Rice appeared on Al Jazeera English to explain the U.S. rationale for the veto. The U.N. ambassador said that if the resolution had passed it “might even encourage — increase settlement activity,” bewildering the network anchor. Watch it: