For Washington, lose-lose UN settlements flap

Update: the always thorough Ron Kampeas debunks the claim from the Republican Jewish Coalition and echoed by others that "the United States has historically opposed U.N. Security Council actions that target Israel specifically."

Ron writes: The last Bush administration did not veto a May 19 2004 resolution calling on Israel to stop demolishing Palestinian homes, and there were numerous veto-withholds during the Clinton, first Bush and Reagan administrations regarding the deportation of Palestinians and Israeli military actions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and in Lebanon. All of these specifically targeted Israel.

Things are moving fast and furious in the debate about a proposed UN Security Council resolution blasting Israel’s settlements activity.

Yesterday the Obama administration was negotiating over an alternative – a simple statement on settlements.

According to JTA, the Obama administration backed a statement expressing "strong opposition to any unilateral actions by any party, which cannot prejudge the outcome of negotiations and will not be recognized by the international community" and stating that the international body “does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity, which is a serious obstacle to the peace process.”

The statement also would condemn “all forms of violence, including rocket fire from Gaza, and stress the need for calm and security for both peoples."

But today the Palestinians are saying they will continue pressing for a vote on a full resolution, and the administration seems pretty locked into exercising its veto if that happens.

Already, some anti-administration groups are portraying these events as irrefutable proof of President Obama’s hostility to the Jewish state (and conveniently disregarding the long history of our anti-settlement position).

The Republican Jewish Coalition responded quickly. "The Administration’s position is to throw Israel under the bus," said RJC Executive Director Matt Brooks said. "Instead of supporting this statement, the American position should be to publicly defend Israel and veto the Palestinian-backed resolution."

My take: it’s more a reflection of the no-win situation this administration now faces as the peace process continues to moulder.

As Jewish pro-peace groups pointed out, vetoing a resolution that mirrors longstanding U.S. would be embarrassing – and not helpful to the administration’s efforts to improve its credibility in the Arab and Muslim worlds.

On the other hand, allowing an anti-Israel resolution to go through the Security Council without a veto could just get the Netanyahu government’s back up and give a huge boost to the Israeli far right – undercutting Washington’s leverage in trying to get Israel back to the negotiating table.

Plus, of course, there would be hell to pay with pro-Israel forces here.

No doubt the reasoning at the White House was that maneuvering for something in between – a statement on settlements instead of a formal resolution – and making sure it also criticizes all unilateral actions and includes a line about rocket attacks from Gaza is the best way out of the dilemma.

But an undeniably biased UN is such a hot-button in Israel and among its friends here that I’m not sure the impact would be any different than a decision not to veto.

As I said, more or less a lose-lose situation for the Obama administration. The Palestinians, eager not to negotiate, are again using a biased United Nations to skewer Israel; the Netanyahu government, just as eager not to get back to the bargaining table, is again demanding that Washington say “no way” even when its actions violate longstanding U.S. policy.

I think Marc Tracy over at Tablet got it right: “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.”


Stay tuned.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.