US: Yes we can but no you can't.

Feb 19, 2011
*Special to asia!
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The doublespeak of the Obama administration deals a slap in the face for the Palestinians and the UN resolution condemning Israel. What a shame.

Watching television requires a suspension of disbelief, going into a state of mind where you believe anything is possible. Which is why we accept the ludicrous plotlines of soap operas and movies that come out of Hollywood, that we know wil never happen in real life.

Friday also took a bit of a suspension of disbelief for those with our eyes cast towards the United Nations Headquarters where at 3pm local time, they convened their meeting. On the agenda – as stated on the UN website - was the Middle East, including “The Palestinian question”. ( Any similiarity in the phrasing of this issue to the “Jewish question” being discussed in European circles before World War Two was purely coincidental, I hope.)

120 countries – along with the Palestinians -  were bringing to the United Nations a resolution declaring Israel settlements to be illegal (More on the settlements, the issues surrounding it, and how it relates to Israeli-Palestinian peace here ). The Obama administration tried to get the resolution withdrawn.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas refused.

The US said it was not helpful to the peace process, and threatening to veto the resolution, if it did come to a vote at the Security Council. The US – as it has often been noted – consistently uses its veto as a permanent member of the Security Council, when it comes to resolutions against Israel.

(In an analysis piece by Lara Friedman of Americans for Peace Now, it shows how the US  does NOT veto every piece of legislation that is critical of Israel. However it has since 1984 reliably abstained from or vetoed every one that condemns Israeli actions in the occupied Palestinian Territories.)

And this time, it did again.

In the end, there was no need for a suspension of any disbelief in what Washington would do. Out of the 15 members of the United Nations Security Council that voted on the resolution condemning Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories as illegal, one and only country didn't vote for it. It vetoed the resolution.


Washington says

Is it out of place to say that many others regret to at least an equal extent the United States' inability to shall we say, put its money where its mouth is?

The response from the US to the veto was that peace between the two sides has to be achieved “through direct negotiations”, which - as pointed out in my previous post- would not appear forthcoming, since the Israeli government has been shown to be disinclined towards that.

How the Obama administration was going to change that is unclear, considering it could not even convince Israel to agree to a ten-month moratorium on settlement construction, something the Palestinian side wanted done, before it would return to negotiations.

Prior to this vote, Washington had busied itself with persuading the Palestinians drop the resolution and accept a statement condemning settlement construction that would not be legally-binding on Israel.

Perhaps this was the “constructive path” US ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, was referring to in the press briefing after the vote, during which she said,

“... we regret very much that this effort was not accepted and is no longer viable.”

Is it out of place to say that many others regret - to at least an equal extent - the United States' inability to, shall we say, put its money where its mouth is?

As Rice continued to mention,

“ ...we reject in the strongest terms the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity. We view Israeli settlement activity in territories that were occupied in 1967 as undermining Israel’s security, its democracy, and hopes for peace and stability in the region.”

Yes, so Washington is against the settlements, which it regards as illegitimate, but it is against a move that puts it officially on UN record?

Just as we saw during the unfolding of the anti-Mubarak demonstrations in Egypt, the Obama administration seems to have problems articulating in a coherent manner its official stance.

Sure, we can rationalise it with the whole “Mubarak-is-a-despot-but-he-is-our-despot-who-is-also-good-for-our-friend-Israel” reasoning. We can also see how the US might not want to be seen backing a resolution put forth by the Palestinians and Arab countries criticising Israel. That would make it a dishonest broker in the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, which as Rice noted,

“No outside country has invested more effort and energy and resources in pursuit of that peace than the United States has.”

(I wonder if students can use that same argument when they fail their examinations, or when workers fail to reach the work targets.)

Yes, we can explain, rationalise and understand it, but do these arguments justify US actions?

It could have taken the still-easy way out and simply abstained. That would have been more acceptable than a straightout veto.


Where do we go from here? will be noted today that President Obama squandered a chance to lead and stand up for what he claims to believe in, again.

Well, hopefully the US has a plan to bring the two feuding sides back to peace talks. Its efforts of the past year have proven to be abysmal, with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu snubbing the carrots and sticks the Americans dangled before him.

Rice offered a glimpse of what might be in the works, including the Russian proposal of the first-ever trip by the Security Council by Israel and the Palestinian Territories in 30 years.

Perhaps the Russians may have some sway over Israel's foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, a Russian-born Jew, whom as Wikileaks revealed, Moscow treats as "one of its own".

dan-chyi chua

Dan-Chyi Chua was a broadcast journalist, before forsaking Goggle Box Glitz for the Open Road. A three-year foray led her through the Middle East, China, SE Asia, Latin America and Cuba, and she's now grounded herself as a writer for, content with spending her days in Jerusalem.

Contact Dan-Chyi