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U.S. Supports Softer Settlement Statement

But its bluff is called; vote on harsher resolution could come Friday

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A U.N. Security Council meeting in December.(Mario Tama/Getty Images)

The Obama administration offered to support a watered-down statement instead of the anti-settlements resolution that the Palestinian Authority has wished to submit to the U.N. Security Council. The Palestinians’ proposal calls the settlements illegal—and the United States has promised to veto it. To avoid having to make its first Council veto, though, the Obama administration suggested that instead the Council resolve that it “does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity.” In a further twist, the P.A., having caught wind of this plan last night, rejected it and, along with the so-called Arab Group, said it would move for a vote on the harsher resolution Friday.

Everyone knows the Obama administration has, in public and no doubt even more in private, conveyed to the Israeli government that it opposes further settlement-building and many actual settlements. At the same time, it was always going to veto the truly threatening resolution, and indeed still will. So is this such a big deal?

Actually, kind of. The U.N. has long been perceived by Israel and many Israeli supporters as a particular hotbed of animus toward the Jewish state (the infamous Durban conference didn’t help), and consequently, that permanent U.S. veto has long been viewed as its firewall against the imposition of the international community. So even a slight concession on the U.S.’s part is, as U.N. blogger Colum Lynch put it, a “sharp reversal.” As Rep. Anthony Weiner, Democrat of New York, put it last night, “The correct venue for discussions about settlements and the other aspects of a peace plan is at the negotiating table. Period.” Tim Pawlenty, the presumed Republican presidential candidate, blasted Obama as well.

And here’s the thing (and to remove this totally from the settlement question itself): The Obama administration misplayed this one, badly. Trying to please everybody, they accomplished the precise opposite. The U.S. was never not going to veto the Palestinians’ resolution, which meant the Palestinians could call its bluff.

Now the administration gets the worst of both worlds. Israel and its American supporters will accuse (and have already accused) it of bowing to Israel’s opponents in a way none of several previous administrations did. And even more importantly—and you should care about this even if you don’t care about the settlements, or if you share the Obama administration’s disdain for them—at a crucial time for the region, the administration just demonstrated it cannot throw its weight around at the Security Council: It tried to do something, and it failed. It looks weaker now.

In Sharp Reversal, U.S. Agrees to Rebuke Israel in Security Council [Turtle Bay]
U.S. Offered to Back Israel Rebuke [Ben Smith]

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I am looking for somebody who can explain to me why the Arabs are resisting the Jewish settlements which may become a part of the future Palestinian State. By supporting the settlements they may demonstrate their willingness to live in peace together with Jews in the future Palestinian State. By rejecting the very idea of Jews living together with the Arabs in their own state the Arabs demonstrate their intent to have a “judenfrei” Arab territories. If it is so what is the reason for Israel to support an independent Palestinian State which would become one more enemy of Israel?

Two questions for Marc, both regarding this sentence:

“At the same time, it was always going to veto the truly threatening resolution, and indeed still will.”

1. What makes you say that the US ‘was always going to veto’ this UN resolution?

2. Why do you describe this (the original) resolution as ‘truly threatening’?

Marc Tracy says:

@Max because the U.S. always vetoes these resolutions and never even implied it would do otherwise here

I don’t mean truly in the sense of “extremely” but in the sense of “genuinely.” as in, the resolution would be binding. not a huge deal, but a real deal (unlike the “articulation,” which would be nothing)

The UN has a decades-long, undistinguished history as a forum for anti Zionist and antisemitic sentiment. Durban was only a recent and egregious example.

Obama exhibits no personal warmth or affection for Israel. Perfunctory statements of support are not persuasive. Had he shown any real passion for Israel, its remarkable achievements and its status as a stalwart ally, he might have been able to level even stronger criticism of some of its policies without alienating constituents. Maybe he just can’t even fake it.

“The administration just demonstrated it cannot throw its weight around at the Security Council: It tried to do something, and it failed. It looks weaker now.”

But for some sanctions on Iran, it is difficult to think of any area of foreign affairs where this does not apply to the Obama administration. It certainly appeared the the case in Egypt.

Seemore says:

If Obama looks “weaker” in the eyes of the UN he has only himself to blame for having made the settlements issue so “important” for peace negotiations to begin with. Whether one agrees with their position or not,one has to admire how adroit the Palestinians have been in maneuvering their anti-Israel resolution before the Security Council. It makes Obama look like an amateur in the diplomatic arena. It also reinforces the view that he is an inconstant friend to US allies.


Ok to number two. I wonder about that wording but it seems like a matter of taste.

And this might just quibbling, but as you say this is a big moment because the US did offer some kind of tacit support for something vaguely like this resolution. So it seems hasty to say the situation was never in doubt. I, for one, was struck by the way Clinton seemed to dance around the issue, repeating the talking point that the UN was ‘not the venue’ without explicitly committing to a veto. Can anyone with a better memory recall whether that has usually been the way we handle vetoes deployed to bolster Israel diplomatically?

Then again, maybe I’m reading too much into it and this is just a matter of the Obama administration’s style vs. that of John Bolton, aspiring warlord. But I thought you and I were on the same page that Obama and co. seemed in disarray over this resolution; we seem to have drawn different conclusions about what that might have meant behind the scenes, though.

Marc Tracy says:

@Max I mean maybe my foot will go right into my mouth tomorrow, but there is no way the U.S. doesn’t veto the Palestinians’ resolution.

Sharleen Erler says:

haha bizarre certainly it will be

I’ve said that least 823904 times. The problem this like that is they are just too compilcated for the average bird, if you know what I mean

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U.S. Supports Softer Settlement Statement

But its bluff is called; vote on harsher resolution could come Friday

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