Obama’s parting shot at Israel
The international community, by virtue of its being an amalgam of different human collectivities, does not always think in lockstep
There we were, those of us with press credentials, at the United Nations Headquarters in the Turtle Bay neighborhood of Manhattan last Thursday, hours before the much anticipated 3:00 pm Security Council vote on a resolution, sponsored by Egypt, declaring that Israel’s ongoing colonization practices in the Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem, “have no legal validity” and represent a “flagrant violation of international law.”
Would the United States, in its odious efforts to appease Israel, continue to act as if it is that entity’s retained advocate and veto the resolution, as it had repeatedly done in the past with others like it? Or would President Obama, in the waning days of his tenure as chief executive, take the audacious step - audacious, given the strangle-hold that Israeli pressure groups have traditionally had on American administrations - of firing a parting shot at a colonization policy he has long openly opposed and at an insufferable Israeli leader he has long loathed, by instructing his UN ambassador not to cast a veto?
The international community, by virtue of its being an amalgam of different human collectivities with at times contrasting views on how the global dialogue of cultures should be conducted, does not of course always think in lockstep. But among the few issues member states at the United Nations are in full agreement on is that the acquisition of territory by force of arms is inadmissible in international law. And even more inadmissible is the transfer to and settlement in that territory by the population of the occupying power.
Israel has already built, on occupied Palestinian land, a medley of 300 colonies to which it has transferred roughly 600,000 colonists, an act condemned far and wide, vehemently and forcefully, by world leaders - including American leaders, all the way from President Jimmy Carter, who declared bluntly, “we consider these settlements to be contrary to the Geneva Conventions, and that occupied territory should not be changed by establishment of permanent settlements by the occupying power,” to President Barack Obama, who declared equally bluntly, “America does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements.”
Donald Trump will occupy the White House as the 45th president of the United States. Folks, fasten your seat belts for it’s gonna be a bumpy rideFawaz Turki
And Zubin Mehta, the renowned Indian conductor of Western classical music, embodied the Third World’s view on the subject when he asserted, with no need for elaboration, “So long as Israel keeps building settlements, the world will be anti-Israeli.” Simple, but to the point.
It is still Thursday morning and all eyes are on Samantha Power, the engagingly winsome, Irish American liberal academic and intellectual who serves as Obama’s UN ambassador. Will she be instructed - has she already been instructed - by her boss at the White House to veto the resolution, or perhaps to abstain, thus not just guaranteeing the resolution’s passage but turning the vote into a last symbolic poke into Benjamin Netanyahu’s eye, delivered by a frustrated American president who had supped his fill dealing with an incorrigible Israeli expansionist?
Netanyahu, news reports had it, was beside himself, frantically taking to Twitter in the dead of night in Israel (the tweet clocked at 3:28 am) urging the Obama administration to veto the resolution. And Donald Trump - yes, we have to get used to that name - a man who has made no secret of his intention to upend long-held US Middle East policy by facilely moving the American embassy to Jerusalem and to appoint as the country’s next ambassador to Israel an ardent supporter of the colonies, wrote in a pre-dawn tweet, “The resolution being considered at the United Nation should be vetoed. This puts Israel in a very poor negotiating position and is extremely unfair to all Israelis.”
That Trump is a passionate advocate of Israel’s expansionist project goes back to 2003 when, according to the Washington Post, he donated $10,000 - not a princely sum, but the man is known to be cheap - to the West bank colony of Beit El, built in 1977, which houses one of Israel’s most right wing media outlets, Arutz Shiva, and the most messianic of its colonists.
Some analysts have argued, not altogether unreasonably, that UN resolutions condemning Israeli practices - pointing to numerous ones that continued to languish since 1948 - have proved ineffectual at the end of the day, which in turn is a measure of the limits of UN influence on Israel when it comes to this international body’s ability to enforce its own rulings. Nevertheless, a UN resolution represents a collective statement by the international community of where it stands on an issue. To that extent, if nothing else, it carries weight.
What will the United States do? Will it be a veto or an abstention? Will Obama spring most completely to life and deliver a shot across the bow, or will he eat humble pie and go along to get along?
It is now close to lunch time in New York.Time for one of those overpriced burgers - that a freelancer could ill afford - in this most expensive of cities. But wait. There’s a news bulletin. Egypt, which initially had proposed the resolution on Wednesday evening, suddenly instructed its envoy, Amr Aboulatta, to have it pulled, potentially indefinitely, with no word on when or if it would be brought up again. The envoy, it was later reported, had requested a “delay” in the vote to permit Cairo to conduct an "additional meeting of the Arab League’s foreign ministers to work on the resolution’s project." In other words, adios resolution.
It all savored of anticlimax to a day that was a cliffhanger right up to lunchtime. But wait. Another news bulletin, this one the following day. Other countries, it seems, were prepared to take up the slack from where Egypt had left off. New Zealand, Malaysia, Venezuela and Senegal stepped in and re-sponsored the resolution, which then received a 14-to-0 vote, with the US - hold on to your hat - abstaining. Israel’s campaign to derail it had failed.
Less than hour after the vote, the president-elect tweeted ominously: “As to the UN, things will be different after January 20.” At noon on that day, after giving his oath of office, Donald Trump will occupy the White House as the 45th president of the United States. Folks, fasten your seat belts for it’s gonna be a bumpy ride.
Fawaz Turki is a Palestinian-American journalist, lecturer and author based in Washington, DC.