Obama, Do Another Cuba: Lift the Perennial American Veto for Israel in the UN

Besides Cuba, there is another focus in the world in which Americans must leave behind the legacy of colonialism and communism, and that is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Carolina Landsmann
Carolina Landsmann
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Obama's Cuba speech shown on a TV screen in a Cuban-American-owned coffee shop in Union City, New Jersey, Dec. 17, 2014.
Obama's Cuba speech shown on a TV screen in a Cuban-American-owned coffee shop in Union City, New Jersey, Dec. 17, 2014.Credit: AP
Carolina Landsmann
Carolina Landsmann

Barack Obama’s loss in the midterm elections may have been the best news for the future of the world. Having lost Congress to the Republicans, the only thing he can change anymore is American foreign policy.

And what an opening shot! Live, straight from the White House, Obama announced the renewal of diplomatic ties with Cuba, after 54 years. “We will end an outdated approach that for decades has failed to advance our interests,” he said, adding that “neither the Cuban nor the American people have been well served” by events that took place before most Americans were born.

In his address from the White House, Obama said, “Let us leave behind the legacy of both colonization and communism, for the sake of the Cuban people, the American people and the world.”

There is another hot-button issue in which Americans must leave behind the legacy of colonialism and communism, and that is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There is no more suitable time or person for this than Obama today, a leader liberated from electoral considerations. He is free at last to allow the world to judge him by the content of his character.

Like the embargo on Cuba, the American veto is a remnant of the Cold War world. Because the world order has changed and the world is no longer divided into two blocs, the American veto of anti-occupation resolutions in the UN Security Council has a different significance than it once had. America must now provide actual justification for its veto of the initiative to recognize a Palestinian state. It is not for nothing that the chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, was angry with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry when the latter threatened sanctions on the Palestinians if they go to the International Criminal Court in The Hague. “We have nothing to lose, and if you and Israel want the [Palestinian] Authority, take it, because we can’t go on like this,” Erekat said, addressing the plural “you” because from his perspective, as from that of most of the world, the American veto is perceived as collaborating with the Israeli occupation.

It seems that the U.S. government has adopted the most common Israeli narrative, by which Israel seeks peace and the Palestinians are not a partner. According to this narrative, the Oslo process was halted because of Palestinian terror (which reflects the authentic will of the Palestinians), and not because of Israeli terror, whose height was the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and that reflected, if anything, only the lunatic fringe of Israeli society. The United States must realize what Israel itself has begun to understand: The lunatic fringe of 1995 is the political center of the 2015 elections. For an important part of the Israeli political map, which could take control in democratic elections, “apartheid” is not a curse but a plan.

Since Israel is divided, the United States cannot go on simply being “Israel’s friend,” because who is that “Israel”? The political confusion in Israel is so great that it is not clear whose political interest the American veto serves, and whose is served by lifting it. Thus, in concert with the dramatic internal political struggle over the identity of the State of Israel, the United States must stop asking what Israel wants, and instead ask what the United States wants. Does America welcome the birth of a Palestinian state? If so, let it lift its veto and break the last chain that binds the world to the past.

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