"At the end of last week we received a reminder about the environment we're living in. We heard Iran's ruler talk about Israel's destruction, we saw the Syrian army massacring its own people. Some leaders have no compunctions about harming their people or their neighbors," said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the start of the cabinet meeting. True, it's a lousy environment. Only one sentence is needed to complete the picture: "And there are governments that don't mind continuing to occupy other nations for nearly 50 years."
It isn't just the environment that's bad. It's also that "the international community" - mainly Western countries - can't claim a monopoly on international morality. A veto by just one of the UN Security Council's five permanent members is enough for a murderous leader to continue killing his country's citizens, and for those citizens to realize that the "international community" is nothing more than a noisy microphone.
In a single moment, Russia became the bad guy in the Syrian story. An evil empire. But what was rejected in the resolution? Nothing concrete that could stop the slaughter, no intention to impose sanctions, not even a hint at military intervention. What have the United States and the Europeans done to help Syria's people? And what do they plan to do? Just what they've been doing so far.
It's hard to swallow the Russian and Chinese veto of the resolution that merely intended to demand a stop to the violence. Even Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom was disappointed by the veto and Knesset members were appalled by Russia's behavior.
It's interesting that the Russian-Chinese veto is rousing such profound anger and loathing in a country that permanently relies on an American veto. That very same "hour of testing in the international community," as Shalom defined the UN debate on Syria, turns into an hour of threat when it comes to resolutions that affect Israel, which thumbs its nose even at resolutions that don't face an American veto.
But compared to self-righteous Israel, Russia and China behave consistently when it comes to the morality of the veto. They know they're occupying minorities and peoples, they're holding Chechnya and Tibet, and they're violently preventing any expression of national or ethnic independence.
If they were to agree on international intervention against Syria, they'd shoot themselves in the foot because tomorrow some minority would demand a similar resolution on minorities in Russia or China. If they accepted a resolution in favor of the rebellion against Assad, why would they be against a resolution in favor of the Chechens or Tibetans? The veto, from their point of view, has a morality of its own, even if it's perverted and deadly.
But beyond Russia and China's interests in the Syrian issue, Russia has a bone to pick with the United States regarding its Mideast policy, especially the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As a member of the Quartet, Russia hasn't only been excluded from the diplomatic process by the United States. It has had to swallow an American veto imposed exactly a year ago on the resolution to define the settlements as illegal. It has had to swallow America's veto on the 2006 resolution to stop the military operations in the Gaza Strip.
The settling of the score with the Americans over their veto and their exclusive management of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not the reason Russia is putting on a public display. But we can assume the issue influenced the decision to impose the veto regarding Syria.
Israel, which sees nothing wrong with the continued occupation, views an American veto on every anti-Israeli resolution as a natural reflex. So it doesn't understand the anger of the Arab states and some European countries at the veto imposed to its benefit. Every other veto is "improper."
Thus the frustration with the Russian veto on the Syrian issue. Of course it doesn't resemble the American veto in the Israeli-Palestinian issue. After all, how can we compare an American veto on an issue as just and moral as an occupation to a veto that helps an oppressive regime massacre its citizens?
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