By Daniel Larison
President Barack Obama’s ill-advised decision to order the U.S. to abstain on a United Nations resolution condemning Israeli settlements breaks with past U.S. policy, undermines a vital ally and sets back the cause of Middle East peace.
There are many weak arguments against the recent Security Council resolution, but the claim that it “sets back the cause of Middle East peace” stands out for its sheer bad faith. There is a broad international consensus that settlement-building in the occupied territories is both illegal and a barrier to a negotiated resolution of the conflict. No one who is genuinely interested in securing a negotiated resolution of the conflict thinks that continued settlement construction makes a peace agreement more likely. One of the main reasons for continued construction is to establish de facto control over most of the territory that has been occupied while leaving less and less land for the Palestinians so that it becomes impossible for them to have their own state. If that continues, it sets Israel up to rule over a stateless, subject people in perpetuity, and that will be a disaster for all involved. If making an attempt to oppose that dreadful outcome constitutes “betrayal,” I shudder to think what loyalty is supposed to look like.
Calling out Israel for its ongoing illegal behavior becomes unavoidable when there is no progress in resolving the conflict, and the current Israeli government has made it very clear that there won’t be any progress. Criticizing Israel for behavior that has contributed to its increasing isolation in the world is not an unfriendly or treacherous act, and it ought to serve as a wake-up call to warn Israel away from a ruinous path. The fact that many so-called “pro-Israel” Americans are denouncing the decision not to veto the resolution as a “betrayal” reminds us just how bad conventional “pro-Israel” advocates are for both the U.S. and Israel.
It is worth noting here that Israel isn’t actually an ally, much less a “vital” one, and it certainly isn’t “critical” to our security. The U.S. isn’t obliged to cater to some of the worst policies of a client government that has increasingly become a liability. The real problem with the U.S. abstention on the resolution is that it came many years after it might have done some significant good, and it comes so late because Obama wasted his entire presidency trying to “reassure” a government that undermined and opposed him time and again.
The editors’ recommended course of action is as foolish as the rest of the editorial:
[Republicans and Democrats] should start by agreeing to President-elect Donald Trump’s plans to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — a step envisioned but never taken by presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. That would provide a powerful reaffirmation to Israel –- a nation born after the slaughter of six million Jews, and under siege since its birth — of the U.S.’s enduring commitment, and to the world of Israel’s right to exist. That reaffirmation, in turn, is essential in providing Israel with the confidence to move ahead with a two-state solution.
Moving the embassy would have real and immediate costs for the U.S. with many other states, including more than a few allies in Europe. (Notice how the preferences and wishes of our actual allies count for nothing in these matters.) It would do nothing good for Israel, and might very well provoke a new intifada. Even if it didn’t get that bad, it would all but guarantee a dramatic souring of relations with many states in the region that have been tacitly cooperating with Israel. Nothing could be more pointless and short-sighted while also harming Israeli security, so of course that is what the “pro-Israel” editors think the U.S. should do.