Obama, Aleppo and the West Bank

For the past eight years, the government of the United States under the leadership of Barack H. Obama has bent over backwards to disregard Iran’s drive toward hegemony in the Middle East. At the same time, the Democratic Party has de-legitimized UN Security Council 242 by claiming erroneously that the territory called the West Bank, and liberated by Israel in a defensive war (1967) under the precedent of international law — the League of Nation’s Mandate for a Jewish state west of the Jordan River — now belongs exclusively to the Palestinian people. Meanwhile, President Obama has done nothing about the vast ethnic cleansing in conjunction with the untold massacres and the continuous and flagrant disregard for international humanitarian law committed by Syria, Iran and Russia throughout the Syrian civil war.

There is simply no precedent in international law to claim, as Obama’s party does, that the territory of the West Bank belongs to the Palestinians. Under UN Security Council Resolution 242, this territory is clearly under dispute, and its future is to be decided upon through negotiations between Israel and other states within the region. Any declaration which gives sovereignty through unilateral decree, by the UN or by any other state or international entity, is in contradiction to the word and spirit of UN 242. As a constitutional lawyer, Obama should know better.

Under 242, Judea and Samaria are as Israeli as the West Bank is Jordanian. Under 242, this disputed land has never been acknowledged as Palestinian. This is also true of the Oslo Peace agreements, the Madrid Peace Conference and the PLO’s own acceptance of 242 as the initiator and enabler of both Madrid and Oslo. UN 242 is the glue that legitimizes the Palestinian Authority as a representative of the non-Jewish people who live on the West Bank. But 242 has never recognized Palestinian sovereignty over any portion of West Bank territory. For the UN now to say that Israeli settlements have no legal validity on “Palestinian territory” is language which is, in and of itself, in defiance of international law.

Obama was only a child when UN 242 was debated and ratified. He has no historical memory of either the Johnson administration or its UN representative, Arthur Goldberg. But the Goldberg record on UN 242 is clear for anyone to see. The territories referred to in the resolution are not specific to ALL the territories captured by Israel in the 1967 war. On the contrary, the return of specific territory or the owner of territory was never clearly delineated. Jordan had illegally occupied the West Bank in 1948. The Arab community of Palestine had rejected the partitioning of the land west of the river in 1947. The League of Nations Mandate had clearly declared the land to be an integral part of an eventual Jewish Homeland, meaning a state. If there is a clear sovereignty claim to be made for the territories of the West Bank, Judea and Samaria, it is Israel’s to make.

Obama, like many on the left, has always believed that the Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria are an obstacle to peace. He is certainly entitled to this belief. But for the President of the United States to claim through a new UN resolution that the settlements are illegal because they are on “Palestinian territory” is not only a break from legal precedent, it will cause a serious rupture in both US-Israeli and Israeli-Palestinian relations. If Obama doesn’t veto such a resolution, then Israel must protest in the strongest possible terms. The passing of such a resolution will mean the abdication of the Oslo Accords by the PLO. Israel will respond accordingly.

The occupation of the Arab residents of Judea and Samaria is legal through international law based on UN Resolution 242. There is no time limit on this occupation. And the Palestinian Authority (PA) is legitimate only because it recognized 242. Yitzhak Rabin signed the Oslo Accords based on 242. He would NEVER have signed the accords based on recognition of the territories as Palestine. And, of course, he never did. In fact, it was the Labor Party in Israel which began the initial military settlements on the West Bank precisely because 242 established that Israel had a right to security through use of any territory captured in the 1967 war. This included the Sinai, the Golan Heights and the West Bank. But the disputed territories needed to be negotiated between Israel and the states of the region, i.e. Israel, Jordan, Egypt and Syria. Palestine is not a state and even if it was recognized as such, the UN has no right under international law (Resolution 242) to assign it a specific territory.

The very audacity of Obama, Russia, Britain, France and China to claim that Judea and Samaria are Palestine is another lesson in UN hypocrisy. Obama’s birth state of Hawaii was taken by force by the US military without provocation. That makes Obama’s immediate family illegal settlers in the eyes of many native Hawaiians. The same is true for Britain in Northern Ireland, an illegal state forced on Ireland through war. Russia’s claim to Crimea has no UN backing, let alone a resolution calling for negotiations. China’s illegal occupation of Tibet is another example of major power hypocrisy. France has a record of imperial theft in Algeria and across northern and western Africa, while its hold on Corsica is still (after 250 years) under dispute. Yet only little Israel (nine-miles-wide at its pre-1967 armistice lines) is always singled out by most major powers of the UN Security Council for illegal settlements on “Palestinian territory”.

The illegal occupation of Cyprus by Turkey has never been an issue for the current administration. Turkey is a NATO ally, and the US is the leader of NATO. Yet US silence is the password on Cyprus. Neither has Kashmir been anywhere on the Obama agenda. However, the future of this occupied territory risks nuclear war between India and Pakistan. Morocco’s illegal occupation of territory in western Africa is another example of the world’s sole preoccupation with Israel. In fact, it is only the West Bank where concern for any settlements on any territory world-wide is considered as illegal.

Then there is the Obama legacy in Syria and the greater Middle East. After eight years in office, Obama has been directly responsible for both the rise of Iran as a regional power and the reemergence of ISIS across the Levant. By separating Iranian regional behavior from the negotiations over the future of its nuclear program, Obama allowed Tehran a free hand with regard to Iraq and Syria. This has led to the extreme alienation of the entire Arab and Turkish Sunni communities.

The list of Obama’s misdeeds is long, but the major ones include: Failure to stand up to Iran in the aftermath of the hugely successful Iraqi elections of 2010; the complete withdrawal from Iraq in 2011; the failure to act against Assad after declaring that he must go; incompetence with regard to Russia’s military penetration of the northern Levant; and, of course, Obama’s paramount legacy, the massacre at Aleppo.

For a US president who claims that his country is still a world leader, Obama’s record has been a disaster. But Aleppo is his worst sin. Because of the Obama administration it is obvious to all that America’s liberal support for basic human rights and democracy ends only where its perceived national interest begins. Syria is precisely that place. The Syrian civil war began as a democratic reform movement, was met by bullets instead of ballots, was allowed to morph into a Jihadist rebellion through an absence of American will, and finally was entered into by a hostile authoritarian power without US objection. So much for America’s support for democracy under this current administration.

The events of Aleppo should have caused a devastating UN uproar. But instead, the issue of the “illegality” of Israeli settlements on so-called “Palestinian territory” has become a major issue for the UN Security Council. Like Arafat at the UN in 1975 declaring that “Zionism is racism”, in the immediate aftermath of the massacre at Aleppo, the UN has once again shown itself to be a deeply flawed institution.

Zionism was created to save the Jewish people from Muslim dhimmitude and one thousand years of European oppression culminating in the Holocaust. Zionism was successful because it overcame the extreme hostility of many ill-informed Arab dictators. Now in the aftermath of the great Arab uprising for freedom and human rights, Aleppo is the symbol of the great tragedy that has become of the Arab Spring. Democracy should have triumphed for the Arab peoples. Instead the free world, under the failed leadership of Barack H. Obama, let them down.

Once again Arab dictators clamor for an Israeli retreat from the so-called West Bank. Once again the UN Security Council hears only the pleas of these dictators. Once again Israel is pressured by friend and foe alike to withdraw to the suicidal armistice lines of 1949. And once again, Israelis and Arabs fail to unite to create a free and democratic region within the total geographic boundaries of the original Mandate for Palestine.

An Arab state already exists within the confines of this original territory. This state is run by an absolute monarch for the purposes of a family dynasty. Herein lies the key to the future of true peace. Israel is more than willing to negotiate the future of the West Bank, Judea and Samaria with Jordan or any other duly-elected Arab representatives who claim to speak for a democratic Jordan. Face-to-face negotiations without pre-conditions are the key. However, as things stand now, the old paradigms continue to dominate, and the more things change, the more they stay the same. Within this context, one can only hope that the new American president will adopt policies far different than the last.

About the Author
Steven Horowitz has been a farmer, journalist and teacher spanning the last 45 years. He resides in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. During the 1970's, he lived on kibbutz in Israel, where he worked as a shepherd and construction worker. In 1985, he was the winner of the Christian Science Monitor's Peace 2010 international essay contest. He was a contributing author to the book "How Peace came to the World" (MIT Press).