Christmas Eve brought news that the United Nations Security Council had passed a resolution condemning Israel’s development of settlements outside its internationally recognized pre-1967 borders. Halls might have been decked and chestnuts might have been roasted, but that didn’t stop the outrage from reaching a crescendo, with most commentators reserving their wrath for President Obama. The United States in the past has historically used its Security Council veto to shield Israel from denunciatory U.N. measures and its refusal to do so this time — instead we abstained — was taken as evidence of Obama’s smoldering contempt for the Jewish state.
Not quite. The fact is that Obama’s U.N. delegation has vetoed every other one of the body’s attempted condemnations of Israel, which sets him in a category by himself, above George W. Bush who allowed six such resolutions to skate through, and Ronald Reagan who didn’t block 21 resolutions.
So why do so many believe Obama has destroyed American-Israeli relations? Because they’re forgetting about the “Israeli” side of that equation. More so than his predecessors, Obama has been confronted by a hardline Knesset that’s promoted inflammatory policies regarding settlers in the West Bank. This starts at the top: the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been arrogant, incendiary, disrespectful of norms, insistent on war with Iran and forgetful of the fact that his country is a junior partner in its relationship with the world’s lone superpower. That shouldn’t be forgotten as we set about the business of sifting through the post-Obama diplomatic rubble.
But that also doesn’t mean that this current resolution had any business being presented to the U.N., let alone going unobstructed by the United States. So late in Obama’s tenure, such a radical departure from tradition comes off as little more than a poke in Netanyahu’s eyes on the way out. And did the president’s team even bother to read the text? It doesn’t just express disapproval of new settlements; it declares that “the establishment by Israel of settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law.” Under the most extreme interpretation, that could mean innocent Israelis who have lived in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem for decades being hauled before the Hague.
At a time when the most ruthless terror syndicate in the history of the world has established a state, Saudi Arabians are funding jihadism, a Sunni coalition is annihilating Yemen, Syria is burning, Iraq portends another civil war, Libya has deteriorated into a terrorist country fair, and Turkey is slouching towards dictatorship, why does the United Nations obsess over Israel? The answer is that the Arab world’s dictatorships, to say nothing of Iran, have long used Israel the same way that Vladimir Putin uses the West, as a distant enemy to foment nationalist sentiment and cement their own power. There are some exceptions, of course — Jordan has formed a tacit alliance with Israel in recent years, and it fell on Egypt to postpone the recent UN vote when the United States abdicated — but the fact remains that anti-Israel and often outright anti-Semitic sentiment is widespread throughout the Middle East as a result of this fruitless propaganda war. Too many Westerners have bought into this, too, hyperfocusing on Israel’s problems while ignoring the endless heinous abuses of the countries inveighing against them.
Yet decades in, Israel is still there, and the incessant drum-beating against it has done little except drive its listeners further and further towards extremism. The real sin of the U.N. resolution was that it upbraided the settlements while ignoring the greater problem of the ongoing delusion propagated by Israel’s neighbors. This isn’t the only impediment to peace, but it is the biggest.