Will Obama Back Israeli Punishment of Palestinians for U.N. Overture?

Will Obama Back Israeli Punishment of Palestinians
for U.N. Overture?

If the General Assembly approves Palestine’s
application for non-member status, Israel’s
isolation from the international community
would only grow.

By Carl Bloice
Foreign Policy in Focus
November 15, 2012


The arrogance of the man seemingly has no bounds
but still it seems highly presumptuous for Israeli
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman to claim to
speak for the United States. However, according to
AFP, last week, on the eve of the U.S. Presidential
election, he said the U.S. would subject the
Palestinians to “severe measures” if their leaders go
ahead and seek non-member status at the United
Nations General Assembly. Israeli television
Channel 10 reported that the rightwing minister
said the U.S. would join Tel Aviv in assuring that
the Palestinian Authority would “collapse” if the
initiative proceeded.

Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas is planning to
take the bid for recognition and admission to the UN
assembly November 29. The body’s approval by
majority vote in the 193-member body is considered
a foregone conclusion.

The strange irony of all this is that for months now
the Israeli leaders and their supporters in the U.S.
and Europe, and most of the major media in this
country, have insisted that a UN vote in favor of the
Palestinians would be meaningless, have no effect
on the situation in the region, and that a Middle
East settlement can only be secured through
negotiations between the Israelis and the
Palestinians. Somehow that view doesn’t mesh with
the near hysterical response and threats emanating
from the Israeli government in response to the
decision by Palestinian President Abbas to seek UN
recognition. What is obvious, however, is that the
Israelis are aware that the UN action would only
increase the growing isolation of Tel Aviv in the
international community, and lay bare the
opposition to the continuation of Israel occupation
of the West Bank and Gaza and the unrelenting
Israeli colonial settlement expansion.

On November 9, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported
that Lieberman has also threatened to accelerate
settlement building in the occupied territories
should the Palestinians go to the UN.

Much media attention in the U.S. over the past
couple of weeks has centered on the consequences
of the re-election of U.S. President Barack Obama
on U.S. -Israeli relations and the outlook for moving
ahead with the “peace process.” It appears the right-
wing Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu was
badly misled by its supporters in the U.S. Sensing
some diplomatic advantage, the Israeli Prime
Minister injected himself into U.S. politics on behalf
of defeated candidate Republican Mitt Romney. Now
that Obama has returned to the White House, the
Israeli leadership has – at least in public – adopted
a more conciliatory attitude toward the
Administration. Supporters of the Netanyahu
government, both in Israel and here, appeared to
have concluded the prime minister’s bold intrusion
into U.S. politics was unwise.

However, the official Israeli response to the prospect
of a vote at the UN remains unchanged. “Only in
direct negotiations can the real positions be
clarified,” Netanyahu says. Adding that if the
Palestinians are serious about a peaceful settlement
they would agree to sit down together “immediately”
and negotiate. A bid for UN membership will “only
push peace back and will only produce unnecessary
instability,” Netanyahu says.

Not all the hawks in the Netanyahu’s Likud party
government are being restrained. Last week, Danny
Danon, deputy speaker of Israel’s Knesset, reacted
to Obama’s re-election by telling reporters that
“Obama’s victory demonstrates that the state of
Israel must take care of its own interests.”

“We cannot rely on anyone but ourselves. Obama
has hurt the United States by his naïve leadership
in foreign policy, which prefers the Arab world over
the Western world, along with Israel.” Dayan
continued, “The state of Israel will not capitulate
before Obama.”

“Recent second-term presidents, most tantalizingly
Bill Clinton, turned their attention to the Middle
East,” the British newspaper The Independent said
editorially November 8. “Mr. Obama, faced with the
complexities of the Arab Spring, a civil war in Syria
that threatens to destabilize the whole region, and
pressure to use force to prevent Iran acquiring a
nuclear bomb, may have a unique opportunity,
post-Afghanistan, to address Israel-Palestine in a
wider context.”

On the day of the U.S. election the Netanyahu
government’s nine senior ministers were scheduled
to discuss the Palestinian Authority’s decision to
request an upgrade of its status at the United
Nations. According to Haaretz, they were to
“consider a range of retaliatory actions against the
Palestinian leadership,” an official in Jerusalem

“This unilateral step has broken the rules and
crossed a red line,” Lieberman said before heading
to Vienna to attend a gathering meeting of Israeli
ambassadors to Europe where, according to the
Jerusalem Post, they were to “discuss ways to lobby
European governments not to support the plan and
to pressure the Palestinian Authority to either delay,
or drop, its bid.”

A Palestinian official recently told Reuters that the
votes of 12 states of the 27-member European
Union states are committed to vote for the
admission of Palestine and that some were still
undecided. Among the European delegations
expected to vote “no” on the admission of Palestine
are the Netherlands, the Czech Republic and
Georgia. Palestinians can expect overwhelmingly
support from the delegates of Asia, Africa and Latin

The ambassadors evidently won’t have to spend
much effort on France. Last month Netanyahu met
with President Francois Hollande in Paris after
which the Israeli leader slammed the Palestinian
efforts toward international recognition, saying,
“Going to the UN with unilateral declarations is not
negotiations. It’s the opposite of negotiations.” The
Socialist Party President called for an
“unconditional” resumption of peace talks between
Israel and the Palestinians. According to the Israel
media, he added that France was still committed to
a two-state solution in the Middle East but warned
the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas against
trying to force the issue unilaterally.

Following Netanyahu’s visit to France, Hollande
called for an “unconditional” resumption of Israeli-
Palestinian negotiations. “There is the temptation of
the Palestinian Authority to seek at the UN General
Assembly that which it fails to obtain through
negotiation,” he said. However, without at least a
settlement freeze the likelihood of a resumption of
talks is remote.

Following announcement last week that the Israeli
government intends to build 1,200 new houses in
East Jerusalem and on the West Bank, Catherine
Ashton, the European Union’s high representative
for foreign affairs, expressed Europe’s “deep regrets.”
She wrote, “Settlements are illegal under
international law. The EU has repeatedly urged the
government of Israel to immediately end all
settlement activities in the West Bank, including in
East Jerusalem, in line with its obligations under
the roadmap.” German Foreign Minister Guido
Westerwelle called the Israeli decision a “hindrance”
to the peace process

Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn this
week told Spiegel Online that the Palestinian
application to the UN “is an absolutely justified
request and not a provocation. It is often forgotten
that the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine
of 1948 provided for two states — Israel next to an
Arab state,” said Asselborn. “After the Palestinians
failed in their bid last year to be recognized as a
state by the UN Security Council, Abbas announced
he would follow the Vatican model and apply for the
status of an observer state at the General Assembly.
He even offered to formulate the resolution together
with the Israelis, but Netanyahu refused.”

The real question is whether the Israelis are
committed to a “two-state” solution, or any solution,
or whether their strategy is to continue to establish
“facts on the ground” through continued settlement
expansion in the occupied West Bank.

On November 12, Mohammad Shtayyeh, a member
of the Palestinian team working on the UN bid, said
President Obama had voiced his opposition to the
UN move, but that the Palestinian leader made it
clear the decision was final. “I find it extremely
shocking that the US and Israel would oppose this
step,” Shtayyeh was quoted by Prensa Latina as
saying. “What did we do to deserve this
punishment? Did we declare war?”

Another Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erakat, told
official Voice of Palestine radio, “Obama did not
utter any threats but there are threats from the [US]
Congress, which has a draft bill, according to which
it would demand closing the PLO office in
Washington and cutting off aid if the Palestinian
leadership pursues any move at the UN and its
related agencies.”

This week the U.S. stepped up efforts to defer the
Palestinians from going to the UN, including
sending a special envoy to Europe to meet with
Abbas. “We’ve been clear in the past about what
some of the consequences that this would generate,
or engender,” State Department spokesperson Mark
Toner said November 13.

“The stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations
and the lack of prospects for their resumption
anytime soon has persuaded the Palestinian
Authority (PA) to chart its own course by applying to
the United Nations General Assembly (U.N.G.A.) as a
non-voting member state,” wrote Alon Ben-Meir, a
senior fellow at New York University, at the
Huffington Post October 31. “However uncertain the
prospect of such a move may be from the PA’s
perspective, there is very little to lose at this
juncture and perhaps much to gain in taking such a
unilateral step.

“The Palestinians are counting on Israel’s increasing
isolation in the international community and the
overwhelming political support for their cause,
which is also the official policy of the U.S. The
forthcoming elections in the U.S. as well as in Israel,
regardless of their outcome, will provide the
Palestinians with an opportune time to thrust the
nearly forgotten Palestinian problem into the Israeli
and American political agendas while ensuring that
the conflict returns to the forefront of the
international community’s attention.”

Ben-Meir pointed to the recent uniting of
Netanyahu’s Likud Party with the Yisrael Beytenu
group, led by Lieberman, seriously suggests that
coalition government “will hold onto even more
extremist views than the current one, which will
further diminish any hope for achieving a peaceful
solution if Netanyahu wants to legalize settlements.”

Lieberman’s threats to harm Palestinians have
included withholding from the Palestinian Authority
government the tax and tariff revenues Israel
collects and canceling working permits of
Palestinians who are in Israel. “If the Palestinians go
to the UN General Assembly with a new unilateral
initiative, they must know they will be subject to
severe measures by Israel and the United States,”
Lieberman said, adding, “If they persist with this
project, I will ensure that the Palestinian Authority
collapses.” So far, there has been no word as to
whether the Obama Administration will go along
with what would amount to not only collective
punishment but action taken against a whole people
for an action that involves no violence.

The U.S. State Department is trying to twist the
arms of the Europeans to induce them to act against
the Palestinians at the UN and Washington’s
seeming willingness to let the far right in Israel
speak for it in the international arena and make
threats on behalf of the Obama Administration is
not a pretty sight. Carrying out such threats would
be ugly. It is not in the interest of peace in the
Middle East. It would be a mockery of the lofty
pledges the President made at Cairo University three
years ago and it is not the kind of thing the people
who gave Obama the Nobel Peace prize had in mind.

Carl Bloice, a member of the National Coordinating
Committee of the Committees of Correspondence for
Democracy and Socialism, is a columnist for the
Black Commentator. He also serves on its editorial


About leftmargin

Journalist and Columnist View all posts by leftmargin

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