Washington Draws a Line in the Sand on Settlements — With Palestine

It’s tough being a naked superpower when the caterpillars munch away your fig leaf.

In real terms it makes Chamberlain at Munich look like a stickler for principle. The President and Secretary of State of the United States have been pleading and pressuring over Israeli settlements, which Washington opposes.

But who are they pleading with? Who are they cajoling and pressuring? Not the Israeli president building the settlements, but President Mahmoud Abbas of Palestine, to withdraw the Security Council resolution which expresses the sentiment of the entire world — including the US — that the settlements are illegal. In real terms it makes Chamberlain at Munich look like a stickler for principle.

To head off this disastrous dilemma heading to impale its Middle Eastern policy, the US had drafted an ineffectual and in any case non-binding statement that admitted to the “illegitimacy” of settlements in the West Bank, but spent more space condemning ineffectual rocket attacks from Gaza.

But Abbas had no option but to go ahead and put the resolution to the vote. It won 14 to one, with US Ambassador Susan Rice casting a veto.

The administration was scared that it would either be forced to support its own policy in the Security Council and thus risk an excreta tempest from AIPAC — or that it would veto a resolution that it agrees with and humiliate itself in front of the rest of world, including its real allies in NATO.

“We reject in the strongest terms possible the legitimacy of the continued settlement building,” inveighed Rice, while ferociously condemning them as “folly,” bad for Israel as well. However that just reinforced the international message that the Israeli tail was wagging the American dog to vote against its own policy.

A positive vote would have sent a serious signal to Netanyahu not to trifle with his only protector and major paymaster. However, all Netanyahu has had to do is to refer to the even more crazed ideologues who surround him, who will not hear of “concessions” on settlements. But poor Abbas, beleaguered by WikiLeaks showing him trying to kill the Goldstone Report under US pressure and showing what most Palestinians regard as an overflexible, indeed supine, negotiating posture in the peace talks, is assumed not to have a domestic constituency he has to care for.

One would have thought that after Tunisia, Egypt, and Bahrain, this administration would have picked up some hints about diplomacy, not least that diktats and dollars to proxy dictators does not make for stable relationships. But the world’s rapidly attenuating super power was reduced to covering for a coalition of deranged rabbis, likudnik-inclined millionaires, Neocons and evangelical Christian Zionists in the UN Security Council.

It did so in front of a Security Council packed with most of the General Assembly members who have expressed their negative views on settlement over and over again to vote on a resolution sponsored by a wide geographical and ideological range of states — including many EU and NATO members. The resolution was moved by Lebanon, whose ambassador eschewed inflammatory rhetoric and merely cited successive Security Council resolutions, World Court opinions and Geneva Conventions on the issue not to mention Israel’s own commitments under the Quartet’s “Road Map.”

Tip O’Neill’s dictum “All politics is local” is not always true. For a start, polls show that most American Jews oppose Netanyahu and his settlement policy. But more cogently, the masses of Arab citizens on the streets of their rapidly reforming countries bitterly oppose the settlements, and will draw their own conclusions from the Obama policy.

To stop AIPAC huffing and puffing, the Obama administration is about to lose Egypt, Tunisia and much of the rest of the Middle East and erase the last faint hopes of the region that the US can in any way give genuine support to democracy or international law. The disillusionment is going to be all the more profound because of the betrayal of the spirit of Obama’s early speeches in Istanbul and Cairo. Instead of sending serious signal to Netanyahu not to trifle with your only protector, he is now confirmed in his obduracy. And Arabs and other world citizens are even more convinced of US duplicity.

Obama also has yet another crisis coming. The UK, on behalf of France and Germany as well, promised to do all it could to welcome Palestine as a UN member by this September, thereby pushing yet another hot button for AIPAC — and thus the administration.