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NIRAJ SRIVASTAVA | 27 DECEMBER, 2016

Obama Administers a Parting Kick to Netanyahu


NEW DELHI: On December 23 the United Nations Security Council adopted a Resolution condemning Israeli settlement construction on occupied Palestinian territories and demanding that Israel stop doing so.

The Resolution was supported by fourteen out of fifteen members of the Security Council. The United States abstained. Applause broke out in the Council when the Resolution was passed. It describes settlement construction as a “major obstacle” to peace.

Most of the world considers the settlements illegal, as they are built on Palestinian lands and violate several UN Security resolutions, particularly 242 and 338. Those resolutions were adopted soon after the 1967 and 1973 wars between Israel on the one hand and Egypt, Syria, and Jordan on the other.

After those wars, Israel occupied considerable territory belonging to Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and the Palestinians. Many of those territories are still occupied by Israel, despite the Security Council resolutions mentioned above.

This has been possible only because of US support for Israel in the UN Security Council, and supply of advanced weapons to that country. The US has vetoed several resolutions in the UNSC calling on Israel to vacate Occupied Territories.

This has emboldened Israel to ignore the UN resolutions and continue building more and more settlements on Palestinian land without fear of any consequences.

According to a report issued last July and endorsed by the US, at least 570,000 Israelis live in settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, which legally belong to the Palestinians under UNSC resolutions mentioned above. Israel continues to expand settlements in these areas with impunity because the US has continued to veto resolutions calling on Israel to stop this activity.

The US abstention on the Dec. 23 UNSC resolution, therefore, marks a significant change in a long-standing US policy— shielding Israel from UN resolutions that labeled the settlements as illegal.

While the resolution is unlikely to change Israeli policies regarding settlement construction on Occupied Territories, it is widely seen as a major rebuff to Israel by the international community, which could increase its isolation.

Israel reacted angrily to the adoption of the above resolution, with its Prime Minister Netanyahu saying: “Israel rejects this shameful anti-Israel resolution at the UN and will not abide by its terms.” Netanyahu accused the Security Council of “disgracefully ganging up on the one true democracy in the Middle East, Israel.”

Israel is not a “true democracy” because it treats its Arab population—which constitutes around 20 percent of the total population—as second class citizens.Netanyahu’s statements mentioned above reflect Israel’s arrogance and hubris, for which the US is primarily responsible.

For decades, the Jewish lobby in America has influenced US decision-making at all levels, including, unfortunately, the presidential level. Netanyahu’s behaviour is not surprising if seen against this background.

The vote in the Security Council came a day after Donald Trump intervened to stop the resolution being adopted by the Security Council. Both he and Netanyahu spoke personally to President Sissi of Egypt, which had originally sponsored the resolution.

Under intense pressure, Egypt agreed to postpone the vote in the UN Security Council. However, in a show of growing frustration four other countries—Malaysia, New Zealand, Senegal, and Venezuela—all non-permanent members of the Security Council, snatched the Resolution away from Egypt and put it up for a vote on Dec. 23.

The question is why did the US abstain in the voting on this resolution? Going by its record, it should have vetoed the resolution. What changed?

To find the answer to this question one would have to go back to June 4, 2009, when Obama delivered a speech at Cairo University directly appealing to the “Islamic World” for a “new beginning” with the United States. In the speech, Obama acknowledged past mistakes made over centuries in the name of culture and religion, which he said were now overshadowed by “shared interests.”

The 55-minute speech electrified many in the Arab world and raised hopes that Obama would put pressure on Israel to resolve the injustice it had done to the Palestinians and the Arabs.

A few months later, on October 9, the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced the award of the Nobel Prize for Peace to Obama. The Committee probably thought that Obama would “walk the talk” that he had delivered in Cairo four months ago.

But he was unable to do so.Israel and its proxies in the US ensured that every effort that Obama made to put pressure on Israel to stop settlement building in the Occupied Territories was defeated. Israel had, and continues to have, enormous influence in the US Congress—both the House and the Senate—to frustrate Obama’s efforts. Israel also wields formidable power in the US “Deep State,” which includes the military-industrial complex, Wall Street, and the media.

The personal relationship between Obama and Netanyahu soured very quickly. But Obama could do nothing about it. Netanyahu had far more influence in the US system than Obama. In fact, the joke in Washington D.C. was that the US Congress was also a part of the “Occupied Territories.”

In Jan. 2015, something unusual happened.The Speaker of the House, John Boehner, invited Netanyahu to address a joint session of the US Congress without consulting Obama. Many experts believe this act was unconstitutional.Netanyahu did so in March 2015. He devoted most of his speech to arguing why the US should not conclude a nuclear agreement with Iran—an issue close to Obama’s heart, on which he had spent considerable political capital. Obama showed his displeasure by not receiving Netanyahu at the White House during his visit to Washington. Both Obama and Netanyahu managed to snub each other!

This is the background of the vote in the UN Security Council on Dec. 23.

In the last several months Obama has been preoccupied with his legacy as a two-term President of the US. When he came to power in 2008, Obama had raised hopes around the world that he would be different from his predecessor George Bush Jr., who was responsible for many foreign policy disasters.

They included Afghanistan, Iraq, the unilateral abrogation in 2002 of the ABM treaty with the Soviet Union, and expansion of NATO close to Russia’s borders.Unfortunately, Obama ended up belying those hopes. Libya, Ukraine, Syria, and Yemen happened on his watch.

On his way out Obama tried to improve his legacy by concluding the nuclear deal with Iran and improving relations with Cuba. He also resisted calls by the neocons, Pentagon, and the US “Deep State,” especially the Jewish lobby, for direct military intervention in Syria. He was only partly successful. Hundreds of US troops and equipment are currently deployed in Syria.

The passage of the UNSC resolution against Israel on Dec. 23 is payback from Obama to Netanyahu for insulting him more than once. It will likely also improve Obama’s legacy.

Obama can now do so because the Jewish lobby in the US is no more relevant to him.It cannot cause him any harm, though it can probably still do him some good in terms of his future as a lobbyist etc. But he probably does not want to become another Bill Clinton or Tony Blair.

On the other hand, Trump’s unnecessary—and possibly illegal— intervention on behalf of Netanyahu, even before taking the oath of office, is not a good omen of the shape of things to come.

Many experts on the Middle East consider Netanyahu a war criminal who has killed thousands of innocent Palestinians by using US-supplied weapons in Gaza, West Bank, and Lebanon. He has also vowed to build more settlements on Palestinian land in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Netanyahu wants to annex the Golan Heights which legally belong to Syria, and where massive quantities of oil and gas have been found recently.Netanyahu has done everything possible to overthrow President Assad of Syria and break up that country so that Israel may annex large chunks of its territory, particularly the Golan Heights.

In the opinion of many analysts, Israel under Netanyahu is behaving like a rogue state. Such a state does not deserve US support, but censure. Trump is doing exactly the opposite. That is not in the interest of the American people. They have elected him to promote America’s interests, not Israel’s.

(Ambassador Niraj Srivastava is retired from the Indian Foreign Service.)

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