The UN and Obama mock peace

by Michael Sean Winters

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One of the biggest worries about our next president is his seeming inability to keep personal pique from becoming politically significant. In this regard, as in few others, Donald Trump will be mimicking President Barack Obama whose testy relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu resulted in the U.S.'s decision to abstain, and thus allow to pass, a ridiculous resolution at the United Nations Security Council.

The Obama administration is rightfully distressed at the increase in settlement activity on the West Bank. As a good Jewish friend of mine said when his son was born, "He can grow up to be anything he wants, except a West Bank settler." Of course, Prime Minister Netanyahu undertook a freeze on new settlement activity in 2009, in order to entice the Palestinians to enter into bilateral negotiations, but once again, the Palestinians proved that they "never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity," in Abba Eban's famous observation.

Actually, the noun in Eban's statement, uttered in 1973, was "the Arabs" not "the Palestinians" and his judgment proved premature. After extensive bilateral negotiations, during which both sides demonstrated the sincerity of their desire for peace, the Jordanian government did make peace with Israel. The Egyptian government under Anwar Sadat also made peace with Israel. Both agreements remain in force and for all the occasional tensions between the three countries, those agreements have held.

How many multilateral negotiations have born fruit for peace in the Mideast? Where has the involvement of the United Nations in that part of the world been a success? In what meaningful way could an international body that has demonstrated its animosity to Israel for decades contribute to successful negotiations?

Israel is the only democracy in the region. You may not much care for Mr. Netanyahu's leadership. I don't much care for it myself. But, he can be voted out of office tomorrow by a vote of Parliament. In what other countries in that region can this be said? King Abdullah of Jordan is a fine leader, but he can't be removed by a free vote of his people, and the stability of his regime will always be an open question mark: There is a reason his father, King Hussein, once expelled the Palestinian Liberation Organization from the country. General Sisi in Egypt obtained office after a coup and a rigged election; He routinely imprisons his political opponents. Syria is ruled by a mass murderer. Lebanon is relatively stable at the moment, but armed terrorist gangs control large parts of the country. Against such a lineup, why go after Israel?

In justifying the abstention, the Obama administration claimed they only wanted to indicate their displeasure at new Israeli settlements in the West Bank. But, that is not what the resolution says. The resolution declared that "any changes to the 4 June 1967 lines, including with regard to Jerusalem," have "no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law." The phrase "including with regard to Jerusalem" shows the degree of unreality that passes for diplomacy at the U.N. these days. Does anyone think that the Israeli government, any Israeli government, is going to cede control of the Old City to anyone? Does anyone think that would be a good idea? Muslims can worship at the Al-Aqsa mosque today. Were Jews permitted to pray at the Western Wall when the Old City was under Jordanian control?

The U.N. resolution will do nothing to advance the cause of peace in the region. The plight of the Palestinian people will not be ameliorated by the U.N. resolution either. Indeed, to the extent that it provides a pyrrhic victory for the regime, it gives the Palestinian leaders yet another reason to avoid the kind of negotiations that would result in a genuine two-state solution. And, to the extent that the resolution provides fodder for anti-Semites and their fellow travelers, it harms the cause of peace. The attempt to delegitimize Israel is a project with long historical roots and we know where those roots have led in the past.

So, Obama got to thumb his nose at Netanyahu. It is a fitting conclusion to a Mideast policy that has been a disaster. The dead in Aleppo and Mosul, the extinction of the Arab Spring and resumption of military government in Egypt and of chaos in Libya, the increased influence of Iran and Russia, the rise of ISIS, this is an indelible part of the Obama legacy. There are rarely good options for U.S. foreign policy in that part of the world, but Obama has developed a knack for making things worse. And, in this instance, it is hard to see any justification beyond personal pique for the decision not to veto that misguided and counter-productive U.N. resolution.

 [Michael Sean Winters is NCR Washington columnist and a visiting fellow at Catholic University's Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies.]

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