By Yousef Munayyer
Solitude and Absurdity. Perhaps no two other words better described the scene at the United Nations earlier this year when US Ambassador Susan Rice raised her hand with a reluctant expression on her face to veto a Security Council resolution condemning Israeli colonial expansion. Fourteen of the fifteen members of the UN’s most important body voted for this resolution save the United States.
The absurdity? The resolution was pieced together using language from speeches and statements American principals have made regarding Israel’s illegal colonies. Susan Rice was effectively vetoing American policy and then found herself in the peculiar position of explaining why the US was against settlements despite vetoing the resolution.
The United States does not want to see another episode of this saga – let’s call it Israel Island – repeated when the Palestinians bring their application for membership to the United Nations this week. No government enjoys isolation, especially not in today’s interdependent and interconnected world and certainly not a leading power in world politics.
With Arab publics clearly asserting their influence in Arab politics today more than ever and with Palestine continuing to be the tie that binds Arab nations, the United States knows that being an impediment to Palestinian self-determination on an international stage is only becoming costlier.
Vacationing on Israel Island
But it would be wrong to think that it is the Palestinians that put the United States in this uncomfortable position. To the contrary, the US has been routinely vacationing on Israel Island for years. In fact, since 1972 the United States has been the single, solitary veto on 42 Security Council resolutions condemning Israeli violations of international law or human rights. Now, in light of the Arab uprisings and a recalcitrant Netanyahu government hell-bent on expanding Israeli colonies despite state US policy, Israel Island is not the comfortable destination it used to be.
So why would the Palestinians, who don’t want to alienate the United States, force the question by bringing their application to the Security Council?
It’s simple really. You see, the Oslo Peace Process was supposed to be something of a three-hour tour. Yet, this week marked the 18th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Principles in the Rose Garden. The framework, which was supposed to yield a Palestinian state in 5 years, became an Odyssey. Nearly two decades later the number of Israeli settlers in Palestinian territory has nearly tripled and the United States has done little if anything effective to exercise leverage to change Israeli behavior.
It may have taken 18 years, three American presidents and several hundred thousand Israeli settlers but even the most moderate Palestinian leaders have come to the conclusion that Washington simply cannot be an even handed-mediator.
And, on cue, Washington’s response to the Palestinian UN bid will expose the very reason why it is continually handicapped when it comes to Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking. By reflexively supporting Israeli whims regardless of the costs, it reinforces the well-founded Palestinian belief that Washington is incapable of change.
Despite vast international consensus on Palestinian self-determination, American ambassadors are furiously trying to convince their counterparts to vote against Palestinian statehood and undoubtedly expending American political and diplomatic capital in the process. Turkey, a long-standing NATO ally, is drifting away and a veto against Palestinian statehood will only exacerbate that situation. Washington’s oldest ally in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, indicated that the US-Saudi relationship would be irreversibly damaged by US opposition in the Security Council.
Congress is currently threatening not only to cut off assistance to Palestinians but also to defund programs at the United Nations which could promote Palestinian aspirations.
In short, the United States is consistently acting against its own interests to serve the interest of a right-wing Israeli government. The Palestinian UN bid, which is exposing this rather embarrassing American behaviour internationally, is a way for Palestinians to say to the world, “You see, this is what we have to deal with when we participate in US-led negotiations.”
Israel Island is not simply a metaphysical place – it is a mentality – one that prefers isolation over cooperation, stubbornness and recalcitrance over genuine concessions and complying with international law, and vetoes over pressuring Israel.
A valuable lesson from the Arab uprisings is that Israel cannot expect lasting peace with Arab regimes if it does not have peace with Arab nations. It can’t simply wall itself OFF from neighbours it has maligned and expect peaceful coexistence.
The United States has an opportunity to impress this reality upon Israel in a serious way this week. Unfortunately, it appears intent on retreating to Israel Island rather than embracing an opportunity to support Palestinian self-determination.
This article originally appeared on AlJazeera.net.
Yousef Munayyer is Executive Director of the Palestine Center. This policy brief may be used without permission but with proper attribution to the Center.
The views in this brief are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Jerusalem Fund.