On Friday, Hizballah-controlled Lebanon introduced a Palestinian-drawn resolution stating that Israeli settlements outside the 1949 lines, including eastern Jerusalem, are illegal according to the Geneva Convention. The US Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, cast the sole vote against it, dooming it by virtue of the veto power held by the five permanent members of the Council.
Ms. Rice then made a statement which essentially approved the resolution except for the replacement of the concept of ‘illegal’ by ‘illegitimate’. “While we agree with our fellow Council members, and, indeed, with the wider world about the folly and illegitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity, we think it unwise for this Council to attempt to resolve the core issues that divide Israelis and Palestinians,” she said (statements after the vote are here).
Talmudic distinctions like this are often drawn by diplomats. Their only importance is that one side or the other sometimes uses them as an excuse for doing what they want. But they would do that anyway.
Her more important point is that the US thinks that an agreement should be arrived at by the parties themselves and not be dictated by the UN. At the same time, the policy of her government is a) to artificially prop up one of the parties, the Palestinian Authority (PA), which represents only a minority of Palestinian Arabs and which does not have the power to deliver its end of a bargain anyway, and b) to dictate a ‘solution’ itself. So her protest is a little disingenuous.
She should have said this: “Yes, we want the Jews out as much as anyone else here, but our Congress would throw a fit if we let this pass.” The usual suspects will blame ‘The Lobby’, but most Americans still want the US to support Israel, and our representatives know this.
The US statement was mild in comparison to some others. Last May, Brazil signed an agreement with Israel’s enemy Iran, and rapidly-becoming-enemy Turkey, to reprocess Iranian nuclear fuel. This was widely seen as an attempt to help Iran bypass UN sanctions. The Brazilian representative’s remarks, absurd beyond belief, reflect its new alignment:
Council President MARIA LUIZA RIBEIRO VIOTTI (Brazil), speaking in her national capacity, said that a peaceful resolution of the “question of Palestine” was arguably the single most important question for peace and security in the world today, while Israel’s ongoing settlement activity had become the most important obstacle to a comprehensive solution. It was, therefore, only natural that the Council address the matter, in line with its Charter-mandated responsibility to ensure international peace and security…
Indeed, upholding international law must always be seen as acting in the service of peace, she said, adding that the Council could not settle for less, she continued, adding that the peace process must be accelerated. Only dialogue and peaceful coexistence with all neighbours could truly advance the Palestinian cause, and including more countries in the peace process, including developing countries, would “breathe fresh air” into the negotiations. In a time of potential unprecedented change in the Middle East, it was more urgent that ever to press for progress on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, she emphasized.
Those of us whose primary residence is not located on Mars can see that the ‘potential unprecedented change in the Middle East’ illustrates just the opposite: the true irrelevance of the “Palestinian issue” to matters of war and peace in the Middle East.
Just to put the ‘change’ in perspective, none of the uprisings in Arab countries appears to be headed in the direction of democracy. In Tunisia, a caretaker government which is being criticized for keeping remnants of the old regime is providing protection for brothels against Islamic activists who want to burn them down. In Libya, the regime is machine-gunning protesters; in Bahrain a majority Shiite population is fighting to throw out a Sunni monarchy; and in Egypt, the largest and most important nation in the Arab world, Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi has returned and is preaching Islamism to the masses. In a telling incident, Wael Ghonim, the young Google executive considered by many the face of the pro-democracy movement was not allowed to speak at Tahrir Square by Qaradawi’s guards. He departed with his face hidden by an Egyptian flag.
But despite the escalating region-wide violence and the probable move of at least some of the formerly conservative (or liberal, in the case of Tunisia and Morocco) Arab nations into the Islamist camp, the Brazilian government still sees the Arab campaign to kick the Jews out of a tiny piece of their historic homeland as “the single most important question for peace and security in the world today,” and Israel’s construction within existing settlements — that’s the only ‘settlement activity’ that’s gone on for years — as the ‘most important obstacle’ to a ‘solution’!