At the very heart of the question of the future of Judea and Samaria lies UN Security Council Resolution 242. According to the resolution Israel was expected to withdraw from territory its armed forces had occupied in the conflict of 1967. Israel had fulfilled its obligation to the resolution when it withdrew from both the Sinai and later the Gaza Strip. The resolution never called for a complete withdrawal of Israel from all the territories, but instead linked withdrawal with security and direct regional state-to-state negotiations. The US position on all these matters is well documented, and the interpretation of the resolution is clear, precise and without any historical revision of the original intent of either its British, Soviet or American authors. Now nearly fifty years later, Martin Indyk of the Brookings Institution (and a former Obama administration official) has intimated before an Israeli audience that if Prime Minister Netanyahu was to be reelected with a right-wing coalition, 242 might be amended or superseded by a new resolution. The amended version or new resolution would contain a specific framework by which the outline for the future of the territories would be decided by countries outside the region of the Middle East.
This threat, if made good by the Obama Administration, would create the greatest rupture in Israeli-American relations since the Truman State Department attempted to abort the birth of the Jewish state during the Israeli War of Independence in the winter of 1948. Then, it was only through the actions of the Soviet Union (not America or Britain) that Israel’s military resupply was ascertained. In the very shadow of the Holocaust, the US State Department thought it wiser to stand with Arab and Saudi oil than to maintain President Truman’s own commitment to a positive US vote on recognizing Israel as a legitimate member of the United Nations.
Now nearly seventy years later, a high ranking ex-official of that same US State Department has once again threatened Israel. And once again the threat comes through US action at the United Nations. If UN Resolution 242 is overthrown by the Obama Administration, the status of the disputed territories will be thrown into complete turmoil. Not only has international law never confirmed a permanent sovereign for the territories, but all diplomacy since the Madrid International Conference and the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty has been based on UN Resolution 242. The potential turmoil could also include the Israel-Jordan peace treaty. This treaty, which is also based on 242, is an unfinished document because the final border with Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) has never been fixed.
If this new proposed resolution is to announce a full UN state sovereign for the territories, Israel’s very security would be stripped from her hands and placed into the hands of the 1967 War aggressor, Jordan. From both a political and historical standard, how fair would that look to the American public? Certainly Jordan would never agree. However, if the Security Council would choose the Palestinian Authority to be sovereign, then the terms of the Oslo Peace Accords (also based on 242) would be nullified, and Israel would come into immediate conflict with both the US (Oslo was signed on the White House lawn) and the Palestinian Authority itself. If the Security Council would choose to take over the administration of the territories itself, then US ground troops in the tens of thousands would be required, and relations with Israel would not only be seriously damaged, they would probably rupture completely. That would hardly be good politics for a Democratic Party nominee going forward in the 2016 US elections. That would be especially true if that nominee is named Clinton, and her husband was the very same president who stood on the White House lawn with Arafat and Rabin when the Oslo Accords were first signed.
But what if Indyk was only hinting at an amendment to UN Resolution 242? How that would work, I simply can’t imagine. Resolution 242 was written without any prejudice toward Israel and certainly not as if Israel were the aggressor nation in the 1967 war. To add a framework whereby the armistices lines of 1949 are to become (by international law) the final borders would be incongruous with the main body of the document. It just couldn’t be done without appearing absurd. UN Security Council 242 specifically prescribes state-to-state negotiations to be held without any preconditions — and certainly not by predetermining the outcome. Anything less would have meant a specific UN ruling as to who started the war. At the time of the resolution (the Cold War) such a ruling would have been politically impossible. At that time the US clearly understood that the Arab states had attempted to eliminate Israel from the face of the earth. The Soviets also understood their Arab clients’ intentions. After all, they were allied with Syria and Egypt. But now nearly fifty years later, is the Obama Administration telling Israel that she was the aggressor in 1967? Obama was only six years old at the time of the war. I can easily imagine the political abuse this president is going to take if he attempts to alter 242 in such a manner.
Why is this threat being made at this time anyway? Israel is in the middle of an election and, this threat is hardly non-political news. The answer is simple. It’s an extremely unsophisticated message to the Israeli public. It says that if Israelis choose Bibi Netanyahu as their next prime minister, there will be a huge diplomatic price to pay. Talk about not wanting to get involved in other countries’ elections, what hypocrisy!
And if I were Bibi Netanyahu, my message to Obama would be: “You can take your two-state solution idea and bury it with your foreign policy legacy. It’s over. Jordan is Palestine, Mr. President. If only you would demand that your good friend, the absolute monarch of Jordan, King Abdullah, hold democratic elections; then the vast Palestinian majority of his subjects would become citizens instead. They indeed would come to power in His Majesty’s totally artificial country, created by the British Foreign Office over drinks in colonial Egypt. And these newly-liberated Palestinians would be situated east of the Jordan River, where Jesus met John the Baptist over two thousand years ago, in the historic Israel/Palestine geographic region originally (and always) called the Transjordan. This democratic Jordan idea was my old position on the peace process, Mr. President. And if you mess with one word of UN Resolution 242, I’ll take this ‘Jordan is Palestine’ issue right back out of its file and run with it. My far-right-wing coalition would love it. The free world stands for democracy, Mr. President, and not the divine right of kings. I’m certainly willing to defend my new peace ideas with free people all across the globe. But I would especially love it on television, in the United States, and most especially during the all- important election year of 2016. In other words, Mr. President, if you attempt to overthrow UN 242, I’ll attempt to overthrow the king of Jordan.”
But of course I’m not Bibi Netanyahu, and in the final analysis I really don’t know how he might respond to Martin Indyk’s threat. However what I do know is this: the Obama Administration has lost the confidence of the great majority of Americans on his handling of foreign policy. His potential legacy on these matters is very low. At the same time, the region of the Middle East requires out-of-the-box thinking and a level of global cooperation throughout all regions of the world. But Obama’s relations with Russia and China have never really been developed to the point of friendly cooperation. So the President needs to weigh his actions very, very carefully. Israel-Palestine is not a separate issue from Iran, ISIS, the rift with the Sunni world, the Syrian civil war and the potential for an Israeli-Hezbollah confrontation. And all these issues are connected to an Iran nuclear deal assuring the region that Tehran will never come close to achieve the bomb. What kind of legacy would a nuclear arms race in the Middle East be in such an environment?
The next two years are certainly not the time for a major confrontation with Israel. Stop the threats; they can best be described as dangerous and can only lead to places that neither the US public nor the Israeli public want their leaders to go. In the immortal words of President Lyndon Baines Johnson, the American president responsible for UN Security Council Resolution 242, “Come, let us reason together”. Good advice, Mr. President, from a master political operator.