Obama's fatal legacy: Killing the peace process
You can make a strong case that President Barack Obama’ s decision to allow United Nations Security Council resolution 2334 to pass was very harmful to Israel. By endorsing the anti-Israel narrative that every square inch of territory captured by Israel in the 1967 war—including the Jewish Quarter in East Jerusalem and the Western Wall—is “Occupied Palestinian Territory,” and that Jewish presence in those areas is a “flagrant violation of international law,” Obama didn’t just throw renegade West Bank settlers to the wolves—he threw all of Israel.
If a Tel Aviv dairy company, for instance, sells its cottage cheese to Jews in East Jerusalem, does it make that company complicit in a crime? And if a Jew lives in the Old City, can that Jew be arrested and tried in international legal courts?
I know, it sounds preposterous. But when you see the anti-Israel venom spewed by such movements as Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS), would it really surprise you to see them come after Israeli Jews in international criminal courts with the lethal weapon of Resolution 2334 firmly in their hands?
That resolution is the weapon Obama has provided to Israel’s enemies. It would be silly to expect they won’t use it. So, yes, allowing this resolution to pass is harmful to Israel and is a shameful final act for a president who has always claimed to have Israel’s back.
But it is shameful, and tragic, for another reason as well—because it has virtually killed the peace process.
By endorsing a resolution that makes Israel’s presence in post-1967 areas an illegal act—without distinguishing between far-flung outposts in the West Bank and the Western Wall—Obama has eliminated all incentive for the Palestinians to negotiate, let alone compromise. In other words, if Israel’s #1 ally has already decided that 550,000 Israeli Jews are illegally occupying “Palestinian territory,” what is there for the Palestinians to talk about?
What is often overlooked is that previous U.N. resolutions and international and bilateral agreements did not put Israel in such a box and allowed plenty of room for the parties to negotiate.
You can start with the 1922 League of Nations Mandate for Palestine, which, as Evelyn Gordon has documented in Commentary, explicitly allocated all of what is today Israel, the West Bank and Gaza as a “Jewish national home,” a right that was legally preserved by Article 80 of the founding U.N. Charter.
But even if you reject those 1922 Jewish rights, there is the venerable U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 which followed the 1967 war. That resolution, which both parties have been quoting for decades as a basis for negotiations, was explicitly worded to allow Israel to keep parts of the disputed territory it captured during the war, by referring to “defensible borders” and requiring an Israeli withdrawal only from “territories” captured in 1967, not “the territories” or “all the territories.”
Even the 1993 Oslo Accord lists “Jerusalem” and “settlements” as “issues that will be negotiated in the permanent status negotiations.” The point is, whether they thought settlements were illegal or not, peace processors were always savvy enough to allow Israel some leverage and wiggle room to negotiate.
Resolution 2334, by bluntly characterizing Israel as a land thief and making no distinction between illegal outposts and the Western Wall, pretty much obliterates that wiggle room.
President Obama, at the beginning of his term, also left no wiggle room and was equally blunt when he demanded that Israel freeze every brick of construction in every inch of post-1967 territory, including the settlement blocs and the Jewish Quarter. Since no Israeli government could ever meet such a draconian demand, Obama’s move essentially froze the peace process by undermining Israel’s negotiating position and giving the Palestinians the perfect excuse to stay away from peace talks.
With his failure to veto resolution 2334, Obama has come full circle. His draconian demand from eight years ago is now enshrined in the inner sanctum of the United Nations. He may have convinced himself he was only showing “tough love,” but the reality is that Obama has empowered Israel’s enemies, stripped Israel of its negotiating leverage and rewarded the Palestinians for their intransigence.
It is the height of chutzpah when Secretary of State John Kerry now lectures Israel on the importance of negotiating a two-state solution. It’s like saying: “We’ve taken away all your negotiating chips—now go make a deal!”
David Suissa is a columnist for the Jewish Journal.