The decision by 2010 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Barack Obama, to veto a resolution urging Israel to refrain from activities deemed subversive to peace efforts represents a victory of domestic politics over foreign policy in the world's leading superpower. The lame excuse that denunciation of construction in the settlements would harm "the peace process" constitutes a victory of opportunism over morality.
Just two weeks ago, during the demonstration in Cairo's Tahrir Square, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared that the United States honors "the universal right of all persons to live in freedom." Even Israel's former prime minister, Ehud Olmert, a graduate of the "nationalist camp," argues in his book that settlements violate human rights, the quality of life and freedom of movement of the Palestinians.
What would happen were the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, to join other states in the Security Council and cast a vote in favor of the resolution condemning Israel's settlement activity? Would the Netanyahu-Lieberman-Barak government place a freeze on settlement activity? George Mitchell, the special envoy for Middle East peace, knows the answer to this question. Ten years ago, an international committee he headed found that Israel's settlement policies cause humiliation to residents of the territories and disrupt their lives. Mitchell and his associates called on Israel to decide whether the settlements are a bargaining chip for future negotiations or a provocation that will prevent the start of such talks. The committee recommended that a freeze be placed on settlement expansion, even for purposes of "natural growth." Israel's government accepted the report.
Since then, the population of the settlements has grown by 50,000. The Mitchell committee's recommendation for a general settlement freeze, along with the dismantling of settlement outposts set up after March 2001, was included in stage A of the Road Map plan, presented by the quartet to the two sides in April 2003. (The Sharon government did not refer to this recommendation for a freeze when it submitted 14 reservations regarding the Road Map plan. )
A few months later, the Security Council voted unanimously in favor of a Bush administration proposal calling on Israel and the Palestinians to uphold their obligations under the Road Map (Resolution 1515 ). What happened afterward? That's correct: The settlements continued to grow. So did the settlement outposts. It bears mention that in June 2009, Benjamin Netanyahu informed the Knesset that his government intended to adopt a policy of "dismantling the unauthorized outposts."
Contrary to the claim made by the Americans, another Security Council denunciation would not have reduced the chances of promoting peace negotiations, just as the veto they cast does not increase the probability that Netanyahu will come around and present his positions on core issues. Since 1967, the international community, headed by the United States, has paid lip service to the Palestinians, and in recent years, also considerable taxpayer funds. No state will be created as a result. Were it not for the masses of Egyptians who stood up bravely to the policemen at Tahrir Square, the Americans would continue to chirp duplicitously upon reading the State Department's chilling reports about human rights abuses in Egypt. "There is a young generation in the Middle East which seeks opportunity," declared Obama, when he grasped that the Mubarak era had reached its end. The president added: "The leaders cannot lag behind the demands made by young people." These words obviously also apply to the young people of Nablus and East Jerusalem, who, after 43 years of occupation, hunger for liberation, freedom and dignity.
Instead of castigating Obama's hypocrisy, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas would do well to take off his jacket, leave his compound and invite young people to a protest tent in Ramallah's Manara Square. Instead of toying with the illusion that the United Nations will recognize a Palestinian state, Abbas should announce that should Netanyahu persist with his refusal to present a permanent border plan, the Palestinian Authority will tell donor states that it is closing its gates and returning the keys to Israel's military government. Under such circumstances, perhaps even the Israeli left will stop whining about the world's "hypocrisy" and purge itself of the illusion that some foreign politician will risk his job to save us from ourselves.
Thanks, Obama, for taking off the mask and showing us your real face. It's high time we took a look at ourselves in the mirror.
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