Obama’s passing shot at Netanyahu is a futile gesture

Simon Tisdall writes: In a way, Binyamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama deserve each other. Both promised great things. Both proved themselves masters of their respective political spheres. And yet both have contributed, since 2009, to a chronic deterioration in US-Israel relations and the wider Middle East meltdown. This process of polarisation and mutual alienation culminated last Friday with Obama’s active connivance in the passing of a landmark UN security council resolution. The resolution condemned all Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory as a “flagrant violation” of international law that imperilled a future two-state peace.

Amid talk of betrayal, the Israeli response, personally orchestrated by Prime Minister Netanyahu, has been swift and furious. Ambassadors from the 14 countries that backed resolution 2334 were carpeted at the foreign ministry on Christmas Day. Israel has withdrawn its ambassadors from two of the countries concerned, New Zealand and Senegal, and cut aid assistance to the latter. Planned diplomatic exchanges have been cancelled, future Israeli cooperation with UN agencies placed under urgent review, and civilian coordination with the Palestinian Authority suspended. “We will do all it takes so Israel emerges unscathed from this shameful decision,” Netanyahu said.

If he really believes settlements undermine peace, why abstain? Why not go the whole hog and condemn them?
In a sense, these are symbolic actions in response to a symbolic vote. Resolution 2334 is unenforceable. Nobody, least of all the Americans, will attempt to evict the 430,000 Jewish settlers currently living in the West Bank or the 200,000 in east Jerusalem. Nobody can force Israel to embrace John Kerry’s recycled ideas about a two-state solution, although the US secretary of state is expected to spell them out one more time before he leaves office next month. Resolution 2334 joins UN resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973) in the theoretical, consistently bypassed legal canon of the Israel-Palestine issue. It says what should happen. It does not say how.

Yet for all that, the US abstention and UN vote are not lacking in significance. Netanyahu’s smug suggestion that he need only wait for the advent of a Donald Trump presidency is misleading. It is likely Trump will give him a more sympathetic hearing. He may well move the US embassy to Jerusalem – a gratuitously inflammatory gesture.

The personal chemistry between Trump and Netanyahu will be vastly different; insecurity, aggression and paranoia are their shared characteristics. But Trump’s vain, vague boast that he could be the one to “solve” the Israel-Palestine conflict is as insubstantial as his many other foreign policy pledges. And a Trump administration cannot simply reverse the stated will of the UN security council – backed in this case by permanent members China, Russia, France and Britain – any more than it can unilaterally scrap last year’s multinational nuclear deal with Iran. [Continue reading…]

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