How did the Obama administration’s attempt at concessions to Arab states on a UN resolution opposing Israeli settlements play on Capitol Hill? Among Republicans, the reaction was predictable. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, blasted Barack Obama and his team for selling out Israel and sending a very bad message about American resolve to our other allies:
“Support for this anti-Israel statement is a major concession to enemies of the Jewish State and other free democracies. It telegraphs that the U.S. can be bullied into abandoning critical democratic allies and core U.S. principles,” she said in a statement on Thursday.
“Pretending that criticism of Israel is OK if it comes in a ‘Presidential Statement’ instead of a resolution isn’t leadership, it’s unacceptable. Twisting and turning and tying yourself in knots to avoid using our veto to defend our allies and interests isn’t leadership, it’s unacceptable. The administration should change course, stand unequivocally with Israel, and publicly pledge to block any anti-Israel UN Security Council action,” she said.
But Obama’s allies in Congress will defend his nuanced application of “smart power,” right? Er …
“This is too clever by half,” said Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY). “Instead of doing the correct and principled thing and vetoing an inappropriate and wrong resolution, they now have opened the door to more and more anti-Israeli efforts coming to the floor of the U.N. The correct venue for discussions about settlements and the other aspects of a peace plan is at the negotiating table. Period.”
Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), the House Appropriations State and Foreign Ops subcommittee ranking Democrat, agreed.
“Compromising our support for Israel at the U.N. is not an option. The United States must veto the U.N. resolution on settlements to make clear we will not support such a blatant attempt to derail the peace process,” she said.
Not only did Obama sell out Israel and anger both Republicans and Democrats on the Hill, he wound up with nothing to show for it anyway:
The Palestinians said the U.N. Security Council will vote Friday on a resolution to condemn Israeli settlements, rejecting a compromise proposal by the United States as too little, too late.
Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian U.N. observer, made the announcement after a closed-door meeting late Wednesday of the 22-member Arab Group, which endorsed the decision. He called settlement building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want as their capital, the “main obstacle” to the resumption of peace negotiations with Israel and said construction must stop.
Calling for a vote now, Mansour said, “is our effort to respond to what is happening in the Middle East by not putting the issue of the Palestinian question on the back burner but to put it on the front burner.”
The big question now will be whether the US will veto the resolution, or abstain from the vote. There is a near-zero chance of the US voting in favor of it, especially after the criticism coming from both sides of the aisle in Congress. But now that Rice has essentially ceded the point by offering a “presidential statement” that says essentially the same thing as the resolution, the US will have little credibility now on a veto. Not only did Rice question Israel’s settlement activity in her proposal, she also called it a “serious obstacle to the peace process.” If that’s true, even an abstention would look like a backtrack. A veto would look ridiculous.
What do they call this conundrum at the White House? Smart power …. only they don’t see the irony.