What the U.S. veto at the U.N. means
02/20/2011 - 12:20
James Besser

Does it matter much that the Obama administration vetoed a UN Security Council resolution labeling Israel's settlement activity illegal? Naturally, it depends on who you ask, but my answer is: probably not.

Mostly, it strikes me as an action by an administration that has concluded – rightly or wrongly – that the current status quo is the best it can hope for in the Middle East.

Signaling that it doesn't take too seriously the longstanding U.S. position opposing settlement expansion won't set back the peace process because officials here don't see much of a peace process to begin with.

The veto also enables a president besieged by a host of new problems, foreign and domestic, and who faces a difficult reelection fight next year, to avert an all-out clash with pro-Israel forces.

I'm not convinced the average Jewish voter would have cared all that much if the U.S. had let the resolution stand, but there's no doubt that would have put pro-Israel forces on the warpath, and that may have been a battle a weakened Obama had no stomach for.

Would letting the resolution pass have boosted peace efforts, as J Street and Americans for Peace Now contended? I doubt it; both the Israeli government and the Palestinian leadership have little to no interest in getting back to the peace table and the Obama administration, while continuing to talk about the need to win a Middle East peace, seems paralyzed and confused. Letting the veto stand wouldn't have changed that a bit, and it probably would have made Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu even more resistant to pleas from Washington.

Will the veto set back efforts to “delegitimize” Israel, as the major Jewish and pro-Israel groups argued? I doubt that, as well, since pretty much every country but the United States and Israel sees settlements as illegal and a major obstacle to peace. The U.S. veto isn't going to change any minds on the issue.

I'll also bet the veto won't do a thing to stop the Palestinians from trying to use international bodies to create a state they don't seem eager to create through negotiations with Israel.

Opponents of a veto argued that killing a resolution echoing longstanding U.S. policy would undermine U.S. credibility around the world. They're probably right – but I'm guessing that's just a minor blip in a credibility problem for an administration whose foreign policy hasn't exactly impressed the international community with its foresightedness and consistency.

Mostly, I think the message the administration sent with the veto is this: we don't see much hope for new negotiations anytime soon and we have a lot of other stuff on our plate, so why get into a big spat with Israel that will be politically costly at home?  As I said: it was a vote for the status quo by an administration that has pretty much bailed out on the peace process.

JTA is reporting that Netanyahu, in a statement, said “Israel deeply appreciates” the U.S. action.

Whether or not the veto will be in Israel's longterm best interests remains to be seen.

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