Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Obama Allowing Netanyahu Government to Be Hoist by Its Own Petard

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Obama Allowing Netanyahu Government to Be Hoist by Its Own Petard

Article excerpt

European Union Foreign Minister Javier Solana recently upset the Israelis by declaring: "After a fixed deadline, a U.N. Security Council resolution should proclaim the adoption of the two-state solution. This should include all the parameters of borders, refugees, and Jerusalem and security arrangements. It would accept the Palestinian state as a full member of the U.N., and set a calendar for implementation. It would mandate the resolution of other remaining territorial disputes and legitimize the end of claims."

One wonders whether he would have said so without a wink and a nod from Washington. It is, after all, a highly plausible end game to the current Obama strategy-and, indeed, all the more so since the latter is completely, and one presumes deliberately, silent about the United Nations.

For years, the beginning, middle and end of Israeli strategy was to keep the U.N. out of it. Israel was not interested in the implementation of U.N. Resolutions, whether on the right to return or 242 and the other resolutions on the occupied territories.

Then came the Quartet, which brought in the U.S., Russia, the EU and the U.N. However, this was not so much about bringing in the United Nations as about cocooning all its inconvenient resolutions in a cordon sanitaire of diplomacy. The U.N. found itself not only subscribed, by proxy, to American positions-such as the boycott of Hamas-which had no mandate whatsoever from its membership or previous resolutions, but hamstrung from reaffirming its own membership-mandated positions, even as successive Israeli prime ministers twisted the road map into an origami Möbius strip, going round infinitely without ever reaching an end.

Even under President Bill Clinton, the formula was to let the Palestinians and the Israelis negotiate "freely" in the full expectation that the Palestinians would negotiate away most of their impeccably legal positions based upon U.N. resolutions. As I said at the time, it was like putting a Sumo wrestler in the ring together with a toddler and calling for a fair fight.

Fortunately the PLO representatives in New York had a clearer vision. They constantly reaffirmed the U.N. resolutions, convening emergency General Assemblies, a meeting of the signatories to the Geneva Conventions and, of course, the successful referral of Israel's separation wall to the International Court of Justice.

Arab opponents have attacked Obama for being soft on Israel, despite this administration being tougher than any since Bush-Baker turned the thumbscrews on Likud almost two decades ago. They are missing the point. Most notably, Obama and his team have had little or no domestic opposition to their policy-precisely because it has not invoked international law and the United Nations. Looking at the contempt with which Congress (and Israel) has treated the U.N. and international law on the issue, any evocation of it by Obama's team would have been more likely to help create a focus of resistance to his policies than induce support for them.

Had the administration made grandiloquent statements of principles that were not accepted in Washington and in the U.S., those statements would have remained empty ones, thwarted by the Lobby in a Congress which has never accepted that U.N. resolutions apply to either the U.S. or Israel.

Instead, everything the Obama team has asked of Netanyahu-acceptance of a two-state solution and a freeze on settlements-is based on a prior commitment by Israel to the Quartet. Those commitments were supported by AIPAC and by most pro-Israel legislators, who so far have wisely chosen not to eat their own words.

It is an achievement all the more remarkable given Obama's tussles with Capitol Hill over the economy, defense spending, climate change and healthcare, and suggests the Achilles heel of single-issue foreign interest lobbies. Their legislators could try to hold the White House hostage over pressing issues to get a more pro-Likud stance-but they would be committing electoral suicide if they were revealed as thwarting economic recovery on behalf of a foreign power. …

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