FMEP statement addresses US veto on Israeli settlements
The U.S. veto in the United Nations Security Council on February 18 of a draft resolution demanding that “Israel cease all settlement activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem” and reaffirming that settlements are “illegal,” undermines American interests in the Middle East and prospects for a two-state peace.
The Obama administration has worked strenuously but unsuccessfully over eighteen months to persuade Israel to freeze settlement building which it regularly described as “illegitimate.” Yet Israel has accelerated settlement in defiance of American wishes.
In casting the U.S. veto of the resolution, the US representative explained that only direct negotiations will bring peace and that the resolution would have risked “hardening attitudes” and further resort to the UN. This is not persuasive. The text of the resolution called on the parties “to continue with …their negotiations,” and was entirely consistent with this goal, and otherwise reflected U.S. policy.
In any case, negotiations over the past seventeen years have utterly failed to break the impasse over Israel’s occupation and settlement policies, at least in part, because of Israel’s insistence in expanding settlements unilaterally in territory that is the subject of negotiations. The settler population has expanded from 281,000 in 1993 to 557,800 in 2010. Notwithstanding a temporary, partial freeze, the settler populace in the West Bank alone grew by 15,000 in 2010. While passage of a resolution condemning Israeli policy might further harden Israeli views toward compliance with international law and opinion in the short run, it would signal that Israel cannot continue to expand settlements with the impunity it has enjoyed in the past.
Other U.S. officials have said the UN should stay out of Israeli-Palestinian peace-keeping. Yet the UN has been deeply involved in this conflict from the very beginning. It recognized Israel in 1948 and passed other landmark resolutions, like 242. In 2003, the U.S. supported the Security Council’s endorsement of the Quartet’s roadmap, which calls for a settlement freeze.
Anticipated domestic criticism appears to be the real reason for the U.S. veto. But foreign policy leadership requires courage and strategic vision. The U.S. veto will likely accelerate the decline of U.S influence in the Middle East, undermine the credibility of its own policy on settlements, and further erode our reputation as an impartial mediator. All this makes the prospect of progress toward a two-state peace even more distant.
At a time when U.S. efforts to make peace between Israel and Palestine have ground to a halt, the U.S. needs a new policy. Growing protest in the Middle East over oppression and denial of freedom and human rights makes this all the more urgent.