The recent upheaval regarding America’s decision to abstain from using its veto power to protect Israel from a UN security council resolution was hard to miss. Israel was not just surprised, they felt humiliated by their traditional ally. President-Elect Donald Trump and Israeli officials had convinced Egypt, the original initiator of the resolution, to delay the voting process but current President Barack Obama unexpectedly made sure the vote would happen and even passed. This article will argue why that can be a horrible mistake.
After Egypt tried to delay the vote, the process was re-started by three other countries; Malaysia, Venezuela, and New Zealand. Enough proof exists that the Obama administration, together with France, was responsible for this. Several countries were expected to vote against the proposal or abstain but suddenly changed their mind. One of those countries was Angola who assured Israeli officials the country would not vote. They unexpectedly approved. An Ukrainian official even publicly announced that they intended to abstain from voting but the government changed its mind after President Poroshenko was called by US Vice-President Joe Biden. A recent leaked document even showed how American officials reached out to Egypt and Palestinians to not only initiate the vote but also formulate the text. Israel PM Benyamin Netanyahu reached out to Russia to delay the vote, who’s ambassador even made a final effort to do so. But to no avail. The vote had to happen and the resolution had to pass.
But what is the intention of France and the Obama administration? What makes this specific resolution so important to be accepted? Why is Israel becoming so nervous?
The problem for the Israeli government is not so much this resolution. The general assembly of the UN recently approved in its last summit 20 resolutions condemning Israel (and just 4 for the rest of the world including 1 on Syria). Even the fact that it is a security council resolution condemning the settlements as against international law can be overcome. Israel faced worse resolutions in the past wherein the Americans also abstained. Furthermore, just in a few weeks a President likely to be very pro-Israel will start his Presidency. So, why are the Israeli’s this nervous?
The real problem for Israel is that they fear Obama has a bigger plan. Analysts and Israeli officials expect that this vote will only be the introduction to an even bigger resolution. Why would Obama want to do this? Why making such a dramatic step just before he is about the leave office? President-Elect Trump threatens to revoke many of Obama’s political accomplishments while the current President’s foreign policy has been described from failure to disappointment. His presidency could never live up to the big hopes for international peace and order. No longer constrained by domestic pressure, Obama has made the the Israeli-Palestinian conflict his last hope to leave a legacy behind and that Trump cannot revoke if accepted by the UN Security Council.
The agenda of the plan looks as follows. Wednesday the 28th of December, Minister of State John Kerry will introduce Obama’s final plan, a text that will be more elaborately discussed in Paris early January and voted upon by the UN Security Council later that month. This plan will be a blueprint for how a Palestinian-Israeli peace deal should look like, but even more important, how a two-state solution should look like.
Some people will praise this step. Some will criticize it. But no matter the emotional reasons behind this move and maybe even the willingness to really make a difference, Obama’s last dramatic move to change something in the Middle East must be prevented at all cost. It can become a dangerous failure.
Content-wise, the main problem is that the Israeli are not part of the blueprint negotiations. The Israeli government will not be given the right or status to defend its own vital interests. A humiliating move for the country that sees itself as the only Western and democratic power in the Middle East. President Obama and France seem to argue that the main obstacle to peace is Israeli settlement policy. Once intended to force the Palestinians to the negotiation table, now an obstacle to peace. But removing settlements and making up borders won’t force the Palestinians and Israeli’s to talk with each other. It won’t solve the tensions and conflicts between both parties. The Palestinians have refused for years to enter direct negotiations with Israel. They have encouraged other parties to step in, represent them, and solve the matter. While Israel could count on the United States, it now seemed to have lost its most important ally [at least for a few very important weeks]. The Palestinian interests will be represented but Israel doesn’t have this guarantee while vital interests are at stake (security guarantees, Israeli’s identity as a Jewish state, and Jerusalem among others), any resulting blueprint will miss the necessary trust and basis to make such an agreement work.
However, there is even a more important danger if such a resolution and blueprint sees the daylight. A danger that might affect the whole international community. The Israeli government will stop dealing with international bodies. It already ceased working relations with the countries making the resolution happening and the end doesn’t seem in sight. Israel might stand alone now, but in a few weeks will be very likely supported by the Trump-administration to continue. The Palestinians and the Israeli, together with the international community, will not only lose their public platforms to bring both parties together. The important economic and security relations they already have build up will be threatened. This situation including the unwillingness of the Israeli’s to live up to the blueprint and the sensitivity of the whole theme, will polarize the Middle East even further (at a moment that Israel was becoming close to several Arab countries, which won’t just strengthen Palestinian positions, but also drift countries of the Middle East closer to any of the frictioning forces anti-West forces such as Russia and China). With Trump intending to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and ending alliances with some Arab countries (and making new ones), the enflamed conflict will become even more of a rallying point to the region then before. It is unclear why the Obama administration doesn’t see this threat.
But the conflict might not only be harmful to the Middle East. If it turns out the resolution cannot be revoked the Trump-administration has its excuse to follow Israel [as it already announced during the Presidential campaign] out of international institutions and negotiations procedures. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict will be even more difficult to solve. But even more worrying, an already questioned international institution such as United Nations will lose more enforcement power and credicility without America’s support. Furthermore, the blueprint will be a reason for some countries [especially France trying to maneuver itself in an independent and important position regarding Middle East conflicts], to ‘blackmail’ Israel. Sanctions could follow. But again, the Trump-Administration, probably supported by a few important allies not willing to go this far, will keep supporting Israel. A move highly liked by anti-Western forces in a time of increasing competition for power and influence.
In short, Obama’s plan as explained above didn’t happen yet. The scenario’s mentioned above are a risk, but not certain. But when looking at the history of this conflict, reactions by involved parties, the scenario doesn’t seem to be that far-fetched. Obama’s final move for the Middle East might become a new point of friction within an already vulnerable Western alliance. It might even strengthen anti-Western powers in the progress. New conflicts can arise at the same time as international institutions and negotiation procedures are weakened. Global polarization will be the result but one which will be difficult to overcome. It may be the final push to an already unstable international community and for that reason must be prevented at all costs.