January 23, 2019

No-drama Obama? You gotta be kidding


There is no serious policy-based argument in favor of the Obama administration's decision to support – in fact, initiate – an anti-Israel resolution at the UN Security Council. This was, pure and simple, an ego-driven maneuver. It was a move stemmed from frustration, not a thought-through plan that will lead the Middle East in a positive direction. Obama did not start anything. He cannot start anything. So everything he does now is a shot in the dark. For eight years he did not succeed in advancing Middle East peace (not entirely his fault, it is a tough nut to crack), and a reasonable conclusion would be: this is something that I leave to my successor to deal with. Alas, Obama – the man of a no-drama image – proved less immune to personal grudges and considerations than his admirers believed. Last weekend was no substance – it was all drama.


In fact, that is the more generous explanation of the US Security Council vote. It is an explanation that makes Obama seem more human, a little petty, somewhat pathetic, but not sinister. If you want to be less forgiving with the president, you could say that Obama soberly decided to join the forces of de-legitimization of Israel. A number of comments that the president made in the last two years 3.

That Obama's actions were ego-driven does not justify an Israeli ego-driven response. The US president does not work for Israel. So for Israelis to be angry with him is somewhat childish.

The Ego-driven response wil also remain unrecompensed because of what the UN vote proved once again: Israel has no reliable ally other than the US. And that the US is also not completely reliable should have been clear to all those who have eyes to see. The lessons for Israel: be strong, be tough, keep the US as close as possible, but don’t bet your security and well-being on US guarantees.


The debate about settlements is important. But the resolution is not about the settlements. When one lumps together Gush Etzion (which was in Israel’s hands before 1948), Itamar (a distant settlement), Maale Edumim (a settlement bloc), and Jerusalem – all neighborhoods in Jerusalem beyond the Green Line – one does not start a true debate. Israelis are not about to start debating whether neighborhoods in east Jerusalem are legal.


Obama probably still believes that he is Israel’s friend. I’d give him that. He probably thinks – as some of his supporters still do – that Israel needs saving. Does he think it likely that an institution such as the UN has the ability or the intention to save Israel from itself? I doubt that. So there is a contradiction between the way the President sees himself and the way he acted last week.


In one respect the UN vote was a continuation of the last eight years of Obama policies. Obama pretends to be a bold leader when in fact what he does is to “lead from behind” – namely, to refrain from leading. In the Israeli-Palestinian arena, for many years, the US insisted on being the leader, and resisted intervention by other forces, specifically UN intervention.

Obama's last (or almost last) act is to weaken the US’ ability to be a leader in the Israeli-Palestinian arena. Possibly because he does not trust Donald Trump to lead in this arena in the direction Obama would prefer. Or maybe because eight years of frustrating attempts have made him believe that a cop tougher than the US is needed in the case of Israel. Or maybe because of his instinctive tendency to believe that international institutions are intrinsically good and constructive (in too many cases they aren’t).


Forget Israel: what was America’s interest in casting this vote?

There is no such interest.

It is bizarre to argue that ending Israel’s settlement activity will contribute much to America’s security, power, commercial success, relations with anyone. Note that the So we are left with two types of arguments for ending settlement activity.

One – that it is better for Israel. The administration was doing Israel a favor because “the absence of progress toward peace and continued settlement expansion was going to put the two-state solution at risk, and threaten Israel’s stated objective to remain both a Jewish State and a democracy,” as Power said. Does she truly believe that she is acting in Israel’s best interest? I have no reason not to believe ambassador Power. And yet, I believe that Israelis are the better judges of what’s good for Israel’s future. If the US, for its own reasons, decides that it’s time for it to oppose Israeli policies – that I understand. But for the US to pretend to represent Israel’s best interests better than Israel does smells of either hypocrisy or hubris.

Two – that the US cannot morally remain silent when a travesty such as Israeli settlement construction continues. What about this argument? On the one hand, settlement activity could be seen as morally problematic. Israel is letting its citizens have full rights while living in an area in which other people live without having full political rights. On the other hand, is settlement activity the most significant moral travesty with which the US and the world need to deal at the moment? Clearly it is not. And while there is an argument to be made for objecting to the settlements even when more urgent problems linger (the fact that we can’t solve a huge problem doesn’t absolve us from our obligation to solve small problems) – there is also an argument to be made against the morality of singling out Israel’s actions while other countries get a pass. Singling out Israel is not bold action. Voting against Israel at the UN is nowhere near bold – it is easy, it is cowardly.