Arab Bureau cautiously welcomes Obama U-turn on Israel

1. “What Happened?”

For the first time in almost 40 years, a UN Resolution 2334 had been passed confirming Israel’s “flagrant violation” of international law as it continues to erect settlements in the occupied West Bank. The resolution was drafted by Egypt and brokered by Britain, receiving 14 votes for, 0 votes against and 1 abstention.

The last time a similar resolution had been passed was in 1980 (Resolution 465); since then, the United States continued to protect Israel by vetoing any resolution confirming the illegal status of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories (see Negroponte Doctrine).

Following the US’ decision to abstain this time round, Obama’s administration received condemnation from Netanyahu’s government in spite of general endorsement from most of the international community, after which John Kerry made a televised speech heavily criticising Israel and recognising Netanyahu’s government as the most right-winged ruling party in Israel’s history.


2. “Why is it Significant?”

The passed resolution, US abstention and address by John Kerry are significant for the following reasons:

a) Having drafted the resolution, this brings Egypt’s relationship with Israel as an “ally” into question

b) The unanimous passing confirms growing international consensus on the illegal status of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories

c) The resolution follows a vote for Palestinian statehood and criminal allegations of corruption against Netanyahu; this provides continued momentum for Mahmoud Abbas’ anticipated prosecution against Israel at the ICC

d) With less than a month left in office, the US’ abstention and subsequent speech by John Kerry potentially  (see section below) exposes Obama’s true intentions as a US President constrained by external political and business interests; what does this say about the credibility of American politics?

e) John Kerry’s rhetoric also shows signs of insecurity and a growing battle for power and control between Israel and the US


3. ARAB Response

We are not sure whether Obama is showing his true colours with less than a month left in office, or whether he wants his administration to leave with a lasting reputation of “liberalism”. (Or both).

Analysts suggest that there is a huge rift between Obama’s rhetoric before his inauguration and his actions during his presidency – civilian drone strikes have exponentially risen in Yemen and Pakistan, for example. Some analysts suggest that it is not Obama, but wider political and lobby group interests that are dictating the dynamics of US foreign policy. Now, with less than a month left in office, Obama does not need to think about the long-term implications of allowing his administration to “come clean” on issues such as Israel. If anything problematic happens, Trump will have to pick up the mess.

On the other hand, it is possible to claim that America’s condemnation of Israel is a political strategy that aims to highlight differences between the Obama and Trump administrations which can help legitimise Obama as he leaves a bold and last-ditch legacy of being in line with the predominant opinion of the international community.

In all cases, it is not possible for ARAB to not welcome a speech that both condemns Hamas’ indiscriminate targeting of civilians in Israel whilst also condemning Israel’s occupation in the West Bank and wider-spread, indiscriminate targeting of civilians there and the Gaza Strip. We aim to accept international law for what it is regardless of whose interests it advances and whose interests it works against. It is the least problematic standard for proper conduct in the international system that we have at our disposal.

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