Avi Shamir

We Have a Friend at the UN

Let’s not kid ourselves: From a legal standpoint, UN resolution 2334 is nothing new. It upholds the long held view in the international community that all Israeli settlement activity in occupied territory is illegal.

The only people on the planet who say the settlements are lawful either voted for Bibi or are aligned with Jewish Messianists in Judea and Samaria, who are supported by Christian Messianists from the Bible belt in the American south, along with the folks who believe that the savior has already arrived and his name is Donald Trump.

Everyone else on the planet either says that the settlements are illegal or a very bad idea. I challenge anyone to name a country the size of Micronesia or larger that supports the controversial settlements and outposts which have sprouted across the long disputed and very much occupied territories.

Not that the settlements are without historical precedent and an emotional bond with the land. We all know that our patriarch Abraham dwelt in the Judean hills long before anyone ever heard of the Palestinians. But latter day Palestinian Arabs still outnumber the Jewish settlers in the West Bank, parts of which will be returned to them, ultimately and painstakingly, in a future political agreement.

Says who? Says most of the world’s population, for starters; but, closer to home, says three major political parties that endorse the two-state solution: the Zionist Union, Yesh Atid and the Likud. Yet all of the above were taken aback by the US administration’s unprecedented decision not to veto the UN’s most recent anti-settlement resolution.

An objective observer would find it hard to comprehend how any political party with a platform that officially recognizes the ultimate need for territorial compromise can call UN resolution 2334 “shameful.” What’s the point, they would say, in clinging to the dubious legality of settlements on territory that we’re bound to give up anyway?

I’m not the right person to explain the rationale here, as I don’t believe a word of it, but I’ll give it my best shot:

Yesh Atid bigwig Yair Lapid fashions himself as the voice of mainstream Israel, which recognizes the need to give up territory but doesn’t have much to say about the actual building of settlements anywhere in Biblical Israel. (Long live the contradiction that afflicts modern Israel.) Zionist Union chief Yitzhak “Buji” Herzog supports the two-state solution but would bend over backwards to show that he is part of the national consensus, so he opposes the UN resolution and blames Bibi for leading us to further international isolation. (Long live our national priority for international acceptance.) And Bibi, well, he encourages the settlers, pays lip service to the two-state solution and is the uncontested master of Israbluff. (Long live the status quo.)

Not surprisingly, the only Zionist party that is okay with the UN resolution is Meretz. Few Israelis take Meretz seriously, perhaps because it’s the only left-wing party that actually means what it says. And as Meretz is always falsely accused of siding with enemies of Israel they are mostly excluded from the national dialogue.

The Israeli mainstream plays along with the right’s patriotic designs for an unworkable Greater Israel, enabling this marginalization of the left to continue. Israeli leftists, from the centrist leaning Zionist Union to the more outspoken Meretz and Shalom Achshav, are generally derided as disloyal to the state. When I wrote about this in my last blog, a virtual firing squad of hateful talkback critics called me and other like-minded Israelis traitors, morons, renegades and left-wing nutcases. This type of name calling won’t bring us any closer to a consensus on resolving our conflict with the Palestinians.

For many years the UN has called for a cessation of settlement activities in the territories. So has every US President, Democrat and Republican, since the first Jewish settlers started their enterprises after the Six Day War. Mister Trump has vowed to break that longstanding US policy. President Obama’s response, via the UN, is an attempt to preserve it.

The frenzied Israeli reaction to the US’s non-veto of UN Resolution 2334 is replete with accusations that Obama is taking his revenge on Bibi. There is some truth to that. Bibi’s uninvited appearance before the US Congress in a last ditch attempt to thwart the nuclear deal with Iran was an embarrassment for Obama. But the real reason behind Obama’s move is Bibi’s refusal to freeze settlement activity and regenerate talks with the Palestinian Authority, as US Secretary of State John Kerry implored him on innumerable occasions.

The responses of Israeli officials to Kerry have been well documented in the right-wing Hebrew language daily Yisrael Hayom. From personal attacks suggesting that Kerry is “out of touch with reality” to the line of reasoning that terrorism, not settlements, is the main problem in the Middle East. While that argument has a sound moral basis, it hasn’t done one damn thing to stop terrorism. On the contrary, Hamas is delighted every time they see a bulldozer in the territories. Building in the territories certainly doesn’t justify their murderous agenda, but it gives them a pretense, and the popular support they need, to go on implementing it. And with the sore lack of a political horizon, terrorism can go on indefinitely.

The US administration understands this more than many Israelis do, as Kerry has been ridiculed for his efforts to bring Israel back to the negotiating table. And so in Obama’s last month in office he has decided to finally pull the plug on the God-almighty US veto. The message that rings loud and clear is that Israel doesn’t need the US veto, it needs to get back to the business of conducting serious negotiations with the Palestinian Authority.

The US veto was always seen as a statement against anti-Semitic hypocrisy at the UN and confidence in Israel to resolve its conflict with the Palestinians. But that confidence has been shattered as conflict resolution is the last thing that Bibi’s government wants to pursue with any determination. Bibi has no intention of alienating his right-wing supporters. It’s so much easier to do nothing on the diplomatic front and blame Abu Mazzen.

Seen in this light, the non-veto is an alarm bell for mainstream Israelis who sincerely want to end the conflict. They can start with the mindset that anyone who criticizes Israeli policy is not necessarily an enemy, and can even be a friend of Israel. False friends hold back on criticism. Real friends tell you the truth. And the painful truth is that our settlement policy, which persists for reasons that have more to do with sentiment than security, is just leading us from one disastrous war to the next.

Samantha Power, the US Ambassador to the UN, articulately stated the US position in her speech following the UN vote last week. I will recap her main points: that the US abstention is a reaction to the double standard at the UN which focuses so much on Israel and has so little to say about the the massacres in Syria; that the US nonetheless withheld its veto power out of a belief that the settlements pose a real threat to the two-state solution as well as Israel’s cherished hopes for a Jewish and democratic state; that Palestinian incitement, terror and the glorification of terrorists must stop in order to achieve a political agreement that won’t fall apart.

I listened to her speech at the UN and sensed her sincerity. I saw nothing in this representative of US policy that smacks of anti-Semitism. Later I read the full text of her speech to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. No malice towards Israel, no revenge, no spite: just a wake-up call from a friend.

About the Author
Avi Shamir is a freelance writer, editor, translator and the author of "Saving the Game," a novel about baseball. A Brooklyn College graduate with a BA in English, Avi has contributed to the Jerusalem Post, The Nation, Israel Scene, In English and The World Zionist Press Service.