Yesterday, a group of foreign policy heavyweights released a letter urging that the United States break from past precedent and cast a vote at the Security Council condemning Israeli settlements on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem as illegal. Among the signatories, former US Trade Representative Carla Hills, former Undersecretary of State Thomas Pickering, and former Secretary of Defense Frank Carlucci.
I asked a friend deeply familiar with the Mideast peace process for comment. His take:
1) This letter is an example of the politics of sincere emotion. It is a gesture. It’s like saying in 2008 that you think Steve Hadley should be in a dock at the Hague or that Obama is the most radical socialist in the history of socialism. These are not serious policy positions, they are instead ways of identifying with a group.
2) This is totally counterproductive to a peace process and for Abu Mazen. It puts no pressure on the Palestinians to start negotiating a final status state and fails to take into account that Bibi already agreed to a settlement construction ban and got nothing for it. What’s more, if there is going to be any movement from Israel, given it’s own precarious politics, how will this letter move Israel to take any risks for anything? There is pretty much no more Labor party. Finally, a vote by the US at the UN Security Council against Israel would spoil an already shaky US-Israel relationship.
3) Israeli governments since Ariel Sharon’s have done more to curb the expansion of settlements, arrest settler vigilantes and negotiate the final borders of a two state solution than the peace process governments of Rabin, Peres, Bibi and Barak. Under Bush, Sharon and then Olmert even worked out a far reaching solution to the problem–building up but not out–ending any kind of further expansion of settlements. Obama disregarded this deal and would not reaffirm the Bush letter acknowledging that Israel would keep some of the communities after he dismantled the settlements of Gaza and a few in the West Bank.