Obama’s Abstention: A Positive Step But Too Little Too Late!

Source: Executive Office of the President

Source: Executive Office of the President

The U.S.’s abstention on U.N. Security Council Resolution 2334 was a major surprise coming in the waning days of President Obama’s administration. Just a day earlier, the U.N. Security Council’s process was brought to a screeching halt after news of President Abdel Fattah Al-Sissi withdrawing Egypt’s own resolution following a phone conversation with President-elect Trump, who vehemently opposed this effort. In reality, Trump’s entry into the Security Council fray came after Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu called for his support, realizing that President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry were seriously considering a U.S. abstention. The Israeli press was joyful with Egypt’s action and splashed on the front pages a headline thanking Al-Sissi for withdrawing the resolution.

However, by Friday morning, four countries — New Zealand, Malaysia, Venezuela and Senegal — submitted the same resolution for Security Council consideration while giving Egypt a definite time if it wished to continue with its own efforts. Getting no timely response from Egypt, the four countries pushed ahead with the resolution, which ended up garnering 14 votes in the affirmative and one abstention by the U.S., thus passing the important veto hurdle at the Security Council. Egypt voted for the resolution despite withdrawing its own draft. The abstention was the first time since 1979 that the U.S. did not veto a Security Council resolution critical of Israel. “It is because this resolution reflects the facts on the ground and is consistent with U.S. policy across Republican and Democratic administrations … that the United States did not veto it,” Reuters quoted Samantha Power, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, as saying.

Immediately after the passing of the Security Council Resolution, Trump’s Twitter feed had the following post: “As to the U.N., things will be different after Jan. 20th.” Trump’s words imply a change of direction is coming with the new administration, but one is hardly  pressed to see what more Israel can get from the new administration. Furthermore, a large majority of Republicans and Democrats in both the Senate and House expressed opposition to Obama’s decision with a legislative action calling for de-funding of the U.N. in the coming budgetary cycle.

Certainly, the resolution itself is a mild statement considering all the prolonged and on-going violations underway in the Occupied Territories. The text begins with: “ Reaffirming its relevant resolutions, including resolutions 242 (1967), 338 (1973), 446 (1979), 452 (1979), 465 (1980), 476 (1980), 478 (1980), 1397 (2002), 1515 (2003), and 1850 (2008), which reestablishes the basis for a two-state solution.” On December 23rd, 2016, the U.N. released a statement concerning the resolution, which read in part: “The Council reiterated its demand that Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem.  It underlined that it would not recognize any changes to the 4 June 1967 lines, including with regard to Jerusalem, other than those agreed by the two sides through negotiations.” Significantly, the statement and the resolution omitted any mention of Resolutions 181 and 194, the two most significant resolutions related to Palestine, which most likely was done to win passage on the most pressing issue impacting the two-state solution: the settlements.

As usual and possibly to be expected, Israel and its allies went into overdrive to demonize the U.N., the countries that sponsored the U.N. resolution and the Obama administration. Immediately after the passage of the resolution, the Israeli government called the ambassadors of the sponsoring countries to express outrage regarding their action at the Security Council, and Prime Minister Netanyahu further promised to downgrade diplomatic relations with each one of them.

On December 26, 2016, a CNN article written by Mark Goldfeder, senior lecturer at Emory Law School and senior fellow at the Center for the Study of Law and Religion, took the attack on the U.N., Obama’s administration and the defense of Israel to a new level, and certainly qualifies as exhibit A for acts of denial. As a way to establish Israel’s right to settle the Occupied Territories, Goldfeder emphasized that: “In 1922 the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine established an area (which included the West Bank) to be a national home for the Jewish people.” I guess Mark and other Zionists are still suffering from settler colonialism denial syndrome since their “rights” are far superior to the indigenous Palestinians who were not consulted by European powers when they “established an area” to solve Europe’s “Jewish problem,” but at the expense of the Palestinians. Yes, I agree that the League of Nations acted in this manner, as did Great Britain before it with the Balfour Declaration, which was precisely the first sin in the Zionist settler colonialism that got us into this point. In this context, Goldfeder is mounting a frontal defense of the grand theft of Palestine and then using postcolonial international framework to affirm the rights of Zionist settlements in the Occupied Territories.

As far as U.S. policy concerning Palestine, in 2009, President Obama gave a major speech at the University of Cairo directed to the Arab world. In it he said, “America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity and a state of their own.” When discussing Israeli settler activity, he declared, “This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop.” At the start of the Oslo process, the West Bank had some 130,000 settlers, but at present it has reached more than 580,000 settlers who moved into the Occupied Territories with the help and funding provided by successive Israeli governments. The promise of a Palestinian state at the end of bilateral negotiations kept the international community from taking any meaningful action.

Arguing that the two-state solution is in “serious jeopardy,” John Kerry delivered a speech on December 28, 2016, offering Obama’s vision for Middle East peace. While the speech rightly mentioned, “current Israeli settlement policy in the region was leading toward a future of ‘one state and perpetual occupation,’” it was too little too late in the game for a real impact. In addition, Kerry offered a much-needed forceful criticism of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu while calling his government “the most right-wing in Israeli history, with an agenda driven by the most extreme elements.” “They’re leading towards one state,” he said, emphasizing the state could either be Jewish or democratic, but not both.

The U.N. resolution is indicative of a general global trend, which is no longer accepting of Israel’s framing, its cuddling of settlers and support of the settlement as the piecemeal approach to annexation of the Occupied Territories and Jerusalem. Facts on the ground has been Israel’s preferred strategy in controlling and preventing a Palestinian state from emerging, and the U.N. resolution is an attempt — a weak one for sure — to rescue the dying two-state solution. In the days and months ahead, the Palestinians must mount an effort directed at solidifying the legal impact of the U.N. resolution through building more support for a robust BDS global movement. The current “negotiations” track — if one can all them such — provide Israel a free hand at punishing the Palestinians through travel restrictions, roadblocks, land confiscation, structured violence and continued expansion of settlements. Negotiations are meaningless if land is being stolen, rights violated and violence is committed against Palestinians with impunity. Free Palestine is an idea that is awaiting actualization, and the time for it is drawing near.