Obama Comes Close to Withholding America's Veto at the U.N.

Last week saw intense diplomatic activity over the Israeli-Palestinian Arab conflict, leading to rumors that the U.N. Security Council would consider a resolution calling for an almost immediate settlement, on terms clearly disadvantageous and unfair to Israel. While that in and of itself would have been par for the course, much speculation centered on the increasing likelihood that the United States would not use its veto this time, thus turning a rather ritualized session of Israel bashing into international law. In the event, there was no vote, but by all accounts, it was a close-run thing.  

There were two resolutions being bruited, both hostile to Israel, one sponsored by a group of Arab states (through Jordan), and the other by several West European states (through France). France launched a powerful effort to merge the European and Arab texts, in order to bring a resolution to the table that might indeed prompt the Obama administration to withhold its veto. 

On the merits, there doesn’t appear to have been much daylight between the European and Arab visions of an imposed settlement. The gist called for resolution of the matter in either one or two years. The settlement would have demanded the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state in the West Bank and Gaza, virtually complete Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 Lines, land swaps out of Israeli land for any West Bank land not incorporated into “Palestine.” Moreover, the French agreed to the Arab demand that the resolution would not recognize Israel as a Jewish state, nor evidently did it foreclose the so-called “right of return” for Palestinian refugees. 

In the end, as the Palestinian Arabs are wont to do, they rejected even whatever minor differences remained between their maximalist demands and the slightly more modest French proposal. They submitted an uncompromising document to the Security Council late last week. That proved too much for even President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, and with the United States now clearly in opposition, it is unlikely that the resolution, as drafted, will come to a vote. 

Of course, it’s likely the real story is that the Palestinians don’t want any resolution to the matter, short of a single Arab state or just the elimination of the Jewish one. There is a good case to be made that they don’t even want victory, as opposed to simply maintaining the conflict and their international status as an aggrieved people into perpetuity. At any rate, the leadership of the Palestinian Authority appears unwilling to accept anything less than an unconditional Security Council victory (i.e., one that calls for a complete Israeli surrender) because the endemically radicalized Palestinian masses oppose even a return to talks with Israel, much less a compromise agreement.  

That still leaves hanging what would have happened had the Palestinians moderated their demands just a little, thus allowing an actual merger of the Arab and European visions of a ”settlement.” Would the Obama administration have gone along?

It is not an idle point. The way these things work is that after each Palestinian tantrum, the Europeans come back a little more in the Arab corner (they are already almost sitting on the Palestinian lap) and the “unreasonable” demands of the Palestinians eventually become a part of a “framework for peace” or some such locution. Eventually, things may go so far their way that the Palestinian Arabs can’t say no anymore. If that day comes with Obama still in the White House, it will finally give the president an opportunity to withhold America’s veto, and impose a settlement on Israel that his friend Rashid Khalidi might support. 

After all, that speculation over withholding the U.S. veto was based on solid evidence that this was the clear direction Obama was already leaning. There is no hiding the Obama administration’s hostility towards Israel (in particular its current prime minister) and a desire to fall in line with a growing European movement recognize a Palestinian state, regardless of realities on the ground. 

In the runup to the session, Secretary of State Kerry seemed to be as immersed in negotiating a suitable pro-Palestinian resolution as the French. A three-hour meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu ended without any assurances of an American veto in the event the anti-Israel French draft was pushed through. Kerry also met with the Palestinians, but as night follows day, in a self-evident truth that Obama/Kerry/Clinton refuse to learn, the Palestinians will never settle if they think that they have the United States pushing for them, which is all Obama has ever done. The Palestinian position in such circumstances -- push some more. 

In the end neither proposal made it to a vote, but it was dramatically close. Had it not been for Palestinian opposition to any restrictions on militarizing their new state, and a demand that it all be done in a year (rather than two as the French proposed) it might well have gone through without an American veto. 

It may be mere coincidence that Obama chose to change a half-century of American policy and announce a restoration of diplomatic ties with Cuba right after the Israel-Palestinian Security Council gambit collapsed. On the other hand, Obama might have been intent on making some dramatic change to American diplomacy before the new Republican Congress convenes. When the Palestinian option didn’t quite pan out, he opted for Cuba.

Whatever the case, it’s a pretty solid bet that we will see this drama again before the end of Obama’s term, under conditions even less favorable to Israel. Obama seems willing to use his veto promiscuously as a lame duck facing a Republican Congress, but he seems set on setting a precedent for not doing so when it comes to Israel in the U.N.