Obama signals new approach to Palestinian-Israeli conflict
In an interview with Israel’s Channel 2’s Ilana Dayan earlier this month, President Obama said that Israel’s continued construction of settlements in the Occupied Territories coupled with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s rejectionist stance taken during the recent Israeli elections make it more difficult to protect Israel at the United Nations.
Though much of the interview was framed by Obama’s notoriously poor relationship with the Israeli Prime Minister, these and other comments made during the interview signal that the United States may step back from facilitating bilateral negotiations between the two parties – and even withhold a veto at the UN Security Council.
During the recent Israeli elections, Prime Minister Netanyahu promised that a Palestinian state would not be established while he was in power, and capitalized on anti-Arab racism for a last-minute boost in polling. Though Netanyahu later walked back his statements,President Obama remarked during a recent interview with Jeffrey Goldberg that Netanyahu’s actions would have foreign-policy “consequences.” Many have wondered what these consequences would entail.
When pressed by Dayan for clarification, Obama stated that he “was referring to something very specific, and that is how we approach defending Israel on the international stage.” The President continued on to say that:
“But the practical consequence that I refer to — let’s be very specific –if there are additional resolutions introduced in the United Nations, up until this point, we have pushed away against European efforts…because we’ve said, the only way this gets resolved is if the two parties work together…[but] if nobody believes there’s a peace process, then it becomes more difficult to argue with those who are concerned about settlement construction [and] those who are concerned about the current situation.”
Obama could be referencing a recently circulated French proposal to limit negotiations to an 18-month period, after which if no agreement is reached France will unilaterally recognize the state of Palestine.
Simultaneously, Obama made clear that material support for Israel was not at risk: “…in terms of what the United States provides to Israel, the most important thing we provide-security and intelligence and military assistance- that doesn’t go away, because that is a part of the…solemn commitment that I’ve made with respect to Israel’s security.”
The United States has a long history of shielding Israel from diplomatic consequences at the United Nations, regardless of party in power. The United States has vetoed resolutions targeting Israel 41 times.
It may seem that the President – now nearing the end of his second term – is taking an unprecedented new path for American foreign policy vis a vis Israel. Recently, senior White House and State Department officials met with Breaking the Silence, an Israeli organization that uses testimonies from former IDF soldiers to shed light on the variety of human rights abuses Palestinians experience in the Occupied Territories. Breaking the Silence released a report in May detailing atrocities committed during Operation Protective Edge, Israel’s most recent attack on Gaza.
However, it is unlikely that this will continue after the election of a new American president in 2016, where the influence of large invested donors lead candidates – especially Republicans – to compete over who can take the most pro-Israel position.