Israel needs tough love from the US in the UNSC

This coming Monday, the UN Security Council may be voting on the United Arab Emirates (UAE) sponsored resolution against the Netanyahu government’s decision to build more settlements and to legalize outposts on Palestinian private land.

For years, in resolutions related to Israel, the US vote in the UN Security Council has been at odds with its proclaimed positions. The US has employed its status as permanent member of the Security Council to protect the governments of Israel based on the premise that the Israel/Palestinian conflict should be resolved through bilateral negotiations between the parties, and that Israel is a democracy that reaches out for peace, and therefore should be protected.

This argument has long been an empty shell, and more so today, when the new government in Israel clearly declares, both openly and as derived from the coalition agreements, that its hand is not extended in peace, that the occupation is a lasting fixture, and that Israel is a weakening democracy. On Monday, the Biden administration might have the opportunity to support democracy in Israel by NOT vetoing the UAE proposal.

Since 1972, the US has vetoed 53 Security Council resolutions that opposed the positions of Israeli governments. The US president who exercised the right of veto most was Barak Obama. However, there was one decision where Obama deviated from this practice – and rightly so. December 23, 2016, was the lowest point in the relations between the Netanyahu government and the Obama administration, when the American administration, nearing the end of its term, and before Donald Trump entered the White House, chose not to veto the proposed resolution that stated that the Jewish settlements in occupied Palestinian territories are illegal.

It was not an unusual proposal, but the American decision was unusual, a result of the strained relationship between Obama and Netanyahu, which led President Obama, at the end of his term in office, to make a statement, and express his real positions by abstaining.

In less than two months, Netanyahu has managed to sabotage relations with the Biden administration. The planned judicial coup along with wholesale consolidation of Jewish settlements is leading Israel towards a critical confrontation with the American government and European countries, which this time can lead the US to refrain from a veto.

Security Council resolutions, unlike those of the General Assembly, have long term, if not immediate consequences. Monday’s decision may accelerate the process of distancing Netanyahu’s government from Israel’s staunchest friend and endangers the US diplomatic “iron dome” protecting Israel in other UN bodies.

Avoiding a veto on Monday will be considered another step that is not intended to punish, but to convey a clear message: Stop, before it is too late for Israel internally and too late for its international status.

For many years, many in Israel have struggled to distinguish between the position of the international community towards the government of Israel versus the State of Israel. Obama’s decision not to veto a resolution condemning continued Jewish settlement in the occupied territories, because they prevent the resolution of the conflict and harm the rights of the Palestinians, was in line with the position of the majority of Israelis at the time. Still the majority of the public saw it as an injury to the State of Israel.

The new government in Israel highlights more every day that its interests are not the interests of the state, but of sectors that are interested in undermining equality before the law. The time has come for us all to understand that international moves, such as the upcoming resolution proposed by the Arab League to the Security Council and our good friend the United Arab Emirates, are not anti-Israeli.

The Americans are still trying to prevent the decision from moving forward and are trying to promote a presidential declaration, but if the proposal does come to a vote, the US should support the public demonstrations in the streets of Israel and the Israelis and Palestinians who believe in peace, by abstaining and not vetoing the proposal.

It is time that the declarations of support for the two-state solution be translated into action and not remain empty statements. Such a step will support the original Zionist vision, that Israel be a true democratic national home for the Jewish people, a vision that is threatened by the proposed judicial coup, the expanded construction of settlements, and other anti-democratic actions that the new government is promoting.

About the Author
Nadav Tamir is the executive director of J Street Israel, a member of the board of the Mitvim think-tank, adviser for international affairs at the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation, and member of the steering committee of the Geneva Initiative. He was an adviser of President Shimon Peres and served in the Israel embassy in Washington and as consul general to New England.