Secretary of State John Kerry would not guarantee the US will veto unilateral Palestinian actions at the United Nations, speaking to reporters on Tuesday.
“We’ve made no determinations about language, approaches, specific resolutions, any of that,” the secretary told the press in London. “This isn’t the time to detail private conversations. or speculate on a UN Security Council resolution that hasn’t even been tabled.”
Tabled yet or not, Jordan and France have publicly declared their intentions to move forward with resolutions that would set a UN-mandated timeline for Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank, without approval or consultation with Jerusalem. The Obama administration, following its predecessors, has long opposed any actions on the Middle East peace process that fail to include the consent of both parties.
Two senior senators — Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) — released a letter today expressing concern that the White House would allow a resolution to go forward that would do what every administration (including this one) has vowed to prevent, namely impose a “peace” deal on Israel. They write, in part, to Kerry:
We write to express concern about ongoing efforts to impose the terms of a peace agreement on our friend and ally Israel outside of direct negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians. We urge you to make clear that the United States will veto any United Nations resolution and would oppose any efforts to bypass direct negotiations and impose peace terms on Israel through the United Nations Security Council and other international bodies.
For decades, the United States has consistently opposed efforts to bypass direct negotiations and impose terms on Israel through the United Nations Security Council. As President Obama said to the United Nations General Assembly in 2011, “I am convinced that there is no short cut to the end of a conflict that has endured for decades… Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the United Nations… Ultimately, it is the Israelis and the Palestinians, not us, who must reach agreement on the issues that divide them; on borders and on security, on refugees and Jerusalem.”
We strongly agree with this sentiment. Yet there are multiple efforts in the United Nations Security Council to set parameters for final status negotiations, effectively imposing terms on our ally Israel in matters that are vital to its security and national interests. We strongly urge you to make clear to all parties that the United States strongly opposes, and if need be will veto, any effort to bypass direct negotiations and impose peace terms on Israel through the United Nations. A failure to decisively announce that we will veto any resolution from the United Nations that dictates the peace process runs counter to decades of American foreign policy and only gives momentum to these counterproductive proposals.
“Second only to Iran getting a nuclear weapon, the greatest threat [to Israel] is the marginalization of Israel as a state in the United Nations,” Graham told me. A unilateral end run around negotiations, Graham declared, “would be a dramatic shift in how negotiations are conducted.” He is deeply worried about reports that Kerry is attempting to forge a “compromise” that nevertheless would impose terms on the parties. “If that is true it would be [President] Obama’s biggest mistake yet,” he says. “I hope they read the letter and lay a clear marker that any resolution is dead on arrival in the U.N.” Graham logically concludes that if parties are circulating a unilateral plan, the administration must have given “some encouragement” or “conveyed an attitude” that this would be acceptable. “This never would have happened under the Bush administration,” he says.
Reaction to the letter was swift. Elliott Abrams, former deputy national security adviser under President George W. Bush, Abrams is not impressed with Schumer’s role. He has seen this act before. “The letter would be significant if it meant Schumer were deciding not to be a cat’s paw for the White House– on Israel, Iran, or anything else. If he were to lead Senate Democrats to demand a veto, that would be a powerful signal,” Abrams said. “But the evidence so far is that in the end, he will not fight for Israel or anything else if it means taking on the White House or risking his goal of being Democratic leader.”
For decades, there has been bipartisan agreement — one echoed by this White House — that only a negotiated deal can work. (But hey, 50 years of bipartisan Cuba policy and decades of “a Europe whole and free” have gone out the window, so nothing is set in stone with this crew.) With supposedly inviolate principle now up in the air, it will be interesting to see whether self-proclaimed friends of Israel on the Democratic side do anything more than write letters and issue platitudes. Anyone ask Hillary Clinton about this? (You can be sure she will be showing up all smiles at the next pro-Israel gathering, assuring us what a great friend of Israel she is. If so, now would be a good time to oppose the president’s maneuvering.)
“The only durable Israeli-Arab peace deals are those that are negotiated directly; all attempts over the decades by outside entities to impose a solution have failed, to the detriment of both Palestinians and Israelis,” says Michael Makovsky, chief executive of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), a pro-Israel group. “Israel will only make the necessary compromises for a durable peace deal with the Palestinians if it feels America has its back, as Obama has pledged, and if the Palestinians demonstrate their own willingness to make the necessary compromises through direct talks. If such a UN resolution passes, it will demonstrate to many Israelis that the Palestinians aren’t serious and that the U.S. isn’t reliable, thereby pushing off further the chance for durable solution.”
If Schumer and the Democrats crumble once again in the face of White House pressure, it will be up to Republican majorities to conduct oversight, pass legislation and use the power of the purse to head off yet another disastrous development in U.S.-Israel relations. That is already the case, many in Israel and the U.S. believe. Indeed, the administration could long ago have made crystal clear that such an effort would not be treated seriously. Instead, keeping its veto in doubt, it once again tries to strong-arm Israel. If only Obama would treat Israel as well as he treats Cuba.