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U.S. Vetoes Palestinian Resolution

In other news, someone should be fired for diplomatic malpractice

Marc Tracy
February 18, 2011

The United States just vetoed the Palestinian Authority-backed resolution that would have declared Israeli settlements illegal. The draft resolution failed in the U.N. Security Council by a 14-1 vote. “Our opposition to the resolution before this council today should not be understood to mean we support settlement activity,” said U.N. ambassador Susan Rice. “We reject in the strongest terms the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity.” Actions, words, etc.

Look. The point of the resolution was always not to be passed, but to put the United States in this particular spot. That gave the administration three options:

1. Say absolutely nothing about it in the days leading up to it; when the vote comes, veto it, issuing a quick statement, let people who thought you should have not vetoed it complain (validly) about the contradiction between rhetoric and action, and watch the story quietly fade away into the Friday afternoon of a three-day weekend.

2. Don’t veto the bill. Let it pass. You now have Israel and many American supporters of Israel, including a significant majority of representatives from both parties in both houses of Congress, and many of your own constituents, extremely angry with you, because, while it was bad enough (to them) for you to press Israel on settlements in private and at the negotiating table, you simply do not let the U.N., known for an anti-Israel bias, to be able to hold sway over Israel. On the other hand, you have matched your deeds to your stated opinions, stood up for what you claim to believe in, and shown the newly empowered Arab masses that you care about an issue that they care about. More importantly, you have shown every country that you are to be taken seriously because when you say something, you mean it and will follow through on it.

Speaking personally, I would have wished for option 1: I just don’t think the U.N., given its history and the motives of some of its member states, is the correct venue for this sort of thing. But there are absolutely arguments for option 2 as well, and I would have been very intrigued by it, and I may have been persuaded to back it.

But let’s not forget option 3!

Option 3: Try to get around options 1 or 2 by putting a non-binding, purely rhetorical statement on the table, thereby inflaming Israel’s supporters at home and abroad, as well as giving potential Republican presidential opponents superb ammunition against you while getting nothing in return; while at the same time confirming, if any further confirmation were needed, that your words and your binding actions don’t add up. Of course, because the Palestinians know option 2 is exceedingly unlikely, they call your bluff, showing the world that you cannot throw your weight around at the Security Council. But you’re not done yet: Keep digging! Call the Palestinians and alternately cajole them and threaten them to try to get them to withdraw the resolution, so that the world has the image of the ostensible leader of the free world supplicating himself to the disputed leader of a stateless authority. Have him tell you to screw off, showing further how little power you have. Then, when crunch-time comes, veto the resolution.

The pro-Israel side still mistrusts you more, because you considered even toying with the U.N.; the pro-Palestinian side still mistrusts you more, because you vetoed their resolution; and people who don’t really care about this still mistrust you more, because you flailed about seeking an alternative and failed. The main difference? Because you spent the past week trying to find a way out of this, everyone’s paying attention now. Congratulations, and thank God it’s Friday.

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.

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