Obama’s Final Task: Don't Veto UN Resolution on Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Obama has an opportunity to create a historic change of direction and to move the peace process beyond the highest hurdle of all – the first one.

Carolina Landsmann
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Obama watches Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian President Abbas as they shake hands at a trilateral meeting at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York, Sept. 25, 2009.
Obama watches Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian President Abbas as they shake hands at a trilateral meeting at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York, Sept. 25, 2009.Credit: Bloomberg
Carolina Landsmann

“I have come here to bury the last remnant of the Cold War in the Americas,” President Barack Obama said in a speech to the government and the people of Cuba, in Havana. This historic visit to Cuba capped a series of achievements that Obama had set as major goals for his presidency. He took steps to end the embargo on Cuba; got a healthcare law passed; pulled the United States out of its economic crisis; had Osama Bin Laden assassinated; withdrew from Iraq; and signed a nuclear agreement with Iran.

No wonder, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s exclusive goal in his speech at the recent annual conference of the pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC was to prevent Obama from devoting the remainder of his term to the greatest historic task that would wrap up his presidency. It would indeed be Obama’s grand finale to bury the absolute last remnant of the Cold War – the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

How can Netanyahu pull this off? Should he try smearing Obama again? With Obama having only nine months left in office, that would not be practical. Obama is certainly not dependent on the Jewish lobby for re-election and he is free to proceed in whichever direction his historic compass takes him. It may be better instead to smear the United Nations.

Netanyahu’s new strategy has become: “It’s not you, Obama. It’s them.” Therefore, after thanking the U.S. president for his support for Israel and the missiles that the United States has supplied Israel, Netanyahu directed his discursive arrows to the international enemy, relating to the UN as if it were in the same category as Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence. “At the UN, Israel, the Middle East’s only true democracy, is slandered like no other country on earth. At the UN, Israel is subjected to consistent, systematic discrimination. Only Israel is permanently scheduled for condemnation at the UN Human Rights Council, hounded by UN bodies expressly established to delegitimize its very existence,” and on and on. In light of all that, Netanyahu wonders out loud: “How could anyone think that the UN can decide what is a fair and secure peace for Israel?”

He has practically ordered Obama to veto the UN Security Council resolutions on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Such resolutions, he explains, will only push peace further away. It is almost as if Netanyahu is implying the UN is the one sabotaging the chances for partitioning the land into two states; a solution that, based on his remarks to AIPAC, Netanyahu is so eager to achieve. It’s the peace that Israel so greatly wants and that the Palestinians reject, the peace process that Israel is so enthusiastic to conduct without prior conditions, out of a total commitment to a two-state solution. Only Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is the intransigent party.

From Cuba, Obama traveled to Argentina for a first visit with the country’s new president, Mauricio Macri. There, in remarks to students and teachers, the U.S. president acknowledged he does not expect a breakthrough for peace in the Middle East before the end of his term. He also reiterated his support for a two-state solution. “This is not something I was able to get done,” he said. “I am not that hopeful that it’s going to happen in the next nine months,” he said and, referring to Israelis and Palestinians, added: “We can’t do it for them.”

So what does that mean? There is no doubt Obama’s comments suggest that Americans do not have any pretensions about restarting the peace process. Peace cannot be achieved in nine months, he said. But it is absolutely possible to change the historic opening of conditions for the process through international recognition of a Palestinian state, even if its borders are not defined.

Let’s not forget that the United Nations has already decided to establish an Arab state alongside Israel. That decision came in 1947 and the Jewish community of pre-state Israel very enthusiastically accepted it. Does the tragic and historic sequence of events resulting from the Palestinians’ rejection of the plan disqualify not only the original resolution but also the partition's logic?

Obama has an opportunity to create a historic change of direction and to move the peace process beyond the highest hurdle of all – the first one. Refraining from vetoing a resolution on the subject in the UN Security Council will enable the process to move in a different track: for negotiations to take place between two states, Israel and Palestine, with all of the protections that the UN accords its members. That would absolutely provide Obama with the final and fitting feat of his impressive presidency.

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