U.S. policy or Obama’s pique? You decide

Put to one side all of your own views about Israeli settlements—whether you think they’re a good thing, a bad thing, a neutral thing, whatever.  Here’s a thought experiment: Imagine that the President-elect were Hillary Clinton, rather than Donald Trump.  Now ask yourself: under those circumstances, would Pres. Obama have decided to abstain or to exercise the U.S. veto, with regard to Friday’s U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlement activity?

I do not believe that any serious student of the U.S. political scene could doubt for even a second that, if Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton had been elected, the Democratic Obama administration would have vetoed the U.N. resolution.  The plain fact is that, if she had been elected, Mrs. Clinton would be seen by all as the designated protector of Mr. Obama’s “legacy”.  Her wishes as president-elect would carry tremendous weight with Pres. Obama.

Mrs. Clinton has always made strong support for Israel a cornerstone of her foreign policy positions.  It is, I submit, impossible to seriously entertain the idea that, if a President-elect Clinton had asked Pres. Obama to veto the resolution (as she certainly would have done), he would nevertheless have decided to abstain.

If you are in general agreement with the foregoing, then all of us are confronted with an ugly truth.  Under Pres. Obama’s administration, what is supposed to be U.S. foreign policy turns out to be Barack Obama’s personal likes and dislikes.  The foreign policy of the most powerful nation on the planet has now been formulated to assuage the personal pique of the man who happens to occupy the office of president.  We’ve been warned not to observe too closely how either laws or sausages are made; add to that list the nation’s foreign policy.

It is not news that Pres. Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu are not each other’s favorite person.  From Pres. Obama’s perspective, the final straw might well have been the address the PM made to a joint session of Congress, urging rejection of the nuclear deal with Iran.  Pres. Obama no doubt believed that that was a bridge too far; he probably was personally affronted by Netanyahu’s intervention.  But, is personal pique toward the PM of Israel a sufficient, rational reason to alter the long-standing U.S. policy of vetoing Security Council resolutions that treat Israel unfairly?  The question answers itself.

We’ve also read in the news reports that Pres. Obama resented public statements by President-elect Trump that the resolution should be vetoed.  In fact, after the U.S. had abstained and the resolution had been adopted, a White House spokesman took pains to emphasize that the U.S. has only one president at a time, and that Pres. Obama will continue to occupy the office until January 2oth of 2017.

It is true that we have only one president at a time.  But Donald Trump is a U.S. citizen.  He didn’t lose his citizenship when he became President-elect Trump.  Like every other U.S. citizen, he had and continues to have the right to express publicly his opinion regarding the Security Council resolution.  He even has the right to call or to receive calls from the president of Egypt, if those two persons decide to have a conversation.  The Obama administration ought to be able to deal with those facts without throwing a temper-tantrum at the U.N.

We now are where we are.  With the U.S. abstaining, the Security Council has adopted a resolution that specifically designates “Israeli” settlement activity as an obstacle to peace and to the two-state solution, but does not similarly specifically designate any Palestinian activities as being obstacles.  There is a general, non-specific condemnation of violence and terror, but there is nothing that is specifically designated as a “Palestinian” obstacle to peace.

Is “Palestinian” construction of terror tunnels from Gaza to Israel an obstacle to peace?  The resolution does not say it is.  Is “Palestinian” glorification of terrorists who have murdered Israelis an obstacle to peace?  The resolution is silent.  Is the “Palestinian” terrorist group Hamas, which controls Gaza, an obstacle to peace?  Again, the resolution says nothing.  The only specific obstacle to peace cited in the resolution is Israeli settlement construction.

Hamas, which is deemed a terrorist organization by the U.S., Israel, and the European Union, welcomed the resolution, calling it “an important evolution in international positions”.  Palestinian senior official Saeb Erekat said the vote was a “big blow” to Israel and an “historic day”.  And J Street, the lobbying group that bills itself as “The Political Home for Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace Americans,” said that it “welcomes” the U.S. decision to abstain.

I can speak only for myself, but if I, as a sincere pro-Israel, pro-peace American, discovered that on an important issue I was in agreement with Hamas and in disagreement with the democratically-elected government of Israel, I would very much want to think again.

About the Author
David E. Weisberg is a semi-retired attorney and a member of the N.Y. Bar; he also has a Ph.D. in Philosophy from The University of Michigan (1971). He now lives in Cary, NC. His scholarly papers on U.S. constitutional law can be read on the Social Science Research Network at: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/cf_dev/AbsByAuth.cfm?per_id=2523973