THE decision of the United States government to abstain from a resolution of the UN Security Council that condemns the ongoing growth of Israeli settlements (in occupied territory) as illegal and a threat to the possibility of a future two-state resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is both stunning and hopeful for the cause of peace.
Stunning because with this the US broke away from the prevailing US practice of opposing and vetoing UN resolutions that criticize the Israeli policy of building settlements on occupied territory on the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Hopeful because it could potentially serve as a breakthrough toward peace, by bringingboth Israel and the Palestinians back into an earnest effort to forge peace.
In all, 14 countries voted for the resolution.
The US, which many expected to abstain from the vote, has been strongly criticized by Israel and by American Jews and Republican leaders for its failure to oppose the resolution. They said the US failure was a betrayal of Israel.
In defense of the US action or non-action, US Secretary of State John Kerry declared in a speech that what the US has done is consistent with the position adopted by previous US administrations to support a “two-state solution” to the Israeli- Palestinian conflict.
He said that Israeli intransigence on the issue of settlement-building, which was continuing, had become the biggest obstacle to the two-state solution, which alone is the key to peace.
Kerry added tellingly that “friends tell friends the hard truths.”
The fact is, the UN resolution says little that has not been formal US policy for almost half a century.
What is new is President Barack Obama’s decision to end the overriding reality that America’s near-automatic support of Israeli policy enabled hardline Israeli leaders like Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to persist in continued settlement-building in the contested areas.
The world long ago recognized that there is no long-term solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict other than some form of partition of the land into two countries, Israel and Palestine, or the two-state solution.
The US protection of Israel obscured the situation by enablingIsraeli governments to ignore the hard realities and the consequences of ignoring them.
By saying now that America will no longer just coddle Israel, Obama probably will nudge its valued ally in the Middle East to finally embrace the hard decisions that need to be taken.
Friends truly should tell friends the hard truths. Nations, no less than people, would not learn otherwise.
We don’t think this will undermine Israel’s existence, which we hope the US will continue to champion.