AIPAC American foreign policy American Jews Barack Obama Bush Administration Gaza Strip Hamas Israel Israeli settlements United Nations

“Emergency! Emergency! U.S. caves in at the U.N.”!

MJ Rosenberg writes, somewhat gleefully, that “AIPAC is furious with George Bush for not vetoing Security Council Resolution 1860 which calls for an immediate ceasefire. After almost eight years, the Bush administration has decided not to stand with Israel against an otherwise unanimous resolution.” The AIPAC statement notes:

AIPAC…expresses its disappointment with the U.S. administration for succumbing to pressure exerted by Arab states and agreeing to bring this vote to the U.N. Security Council – a message contrary to the steadfast and overwhelming support expressed this week by the United States Congress and dozens of elected officials from across the country.

As Franco-Egyptian diplomatic efforts are underway, it is particularly unfortunate that the administration has chosen this moment to engage the Security Council.

How shocking! A few of the righties are already up in arms. Here is Anne Bayefsy in Forbes:

Betrayal. No other word describes the reversal of American foreign policy that took place on the night of Jan. 8 when the U.S. refused to veto the Security Council resolution on Gaza. A president whose friendship and alliance with Israel once appeared honest, perceptive and unshakable, decided two weeks before leaving office to throw Israel to the wolves. The resolution calls for a ceasefire in Gaza and does not even mention the word “Hamas.”

But I predict that, for the most part, the conventional Israel lobby won’t raise a big stink about this. The resolution is toothless and will have no impact. It is a tiny blip on the radar screen for those monitoring the war in Gaza. Still, Obama should take note: the U.S. could judiciously, very selectively refuse to veto UN resolutions that Israel doesn’t like, and while the vengeful wrath of some American Jews would rain down on the administration, doing so would not be politically suicidal. It would not even be very risky, if the Obama team articulates American interests in the region clearly and forcefully, and if Israel takes actions that are clearly against those interests (e.g, constructing more apartment buildings in disputed territory on the outskirts of Jerusalem).

More importantly, the mere act of abstaining from such UN resolutions would send a powerful message to a vitally important audience: the Israeli public. In a chapter in my forthcoming book, Transforming America’s Israel Lobby: The Limits of Its Power, the Potential For Change, I asked knowledgeable, left-leaning Israelis to share American dipomatic interventions that they believed would be useful if Israel were recalcitrant on, for example, relinquishing West Bank settlements. David Kimche, former Director General of Israel’s Foreign Ministry and a noted dove, explicitly focused on the United Nations. He said:

“If Israel won’t budge on the settlements, America should publicly denounce Israel’s stand. It should say, ‘If there are Security Council debates, we won’t use our veto powers.’ If the U.S. denounced Israel and stopped vetoing UN resolutions, it would be a powerful signal. It would be a major sign to the Israeli public that something was very wrong. If this happened more than once, I think the government [of Israel] would be under pressure to back down.”

It would matter because, as former Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami told me, “an Israeli prime minister will have no problem getting elected if he argues with Europe. He will have a hard time getting elected if he argues with the United States.” Any sign that Israel’s most important strategic relationship might be jeopardized would not be well-received by the Israeli public. Remember, Shamir lost an election in part because of his arguments with Bush pere over the loan guarantees. Even a few small gestures at the UN could help.

I don’t mean to imply that, by itself, a new American approach to the UN would matter a great deal to the Israelis. But it should be in the diplomatic toolkit.

I hope the Obama team remembers what the Bushies got away with at the UN on Friday. I hope they listen to MJ, who has worked on the Hill and has been watching American presidents chicken out on Israel-related issues for decades:

On January 20, Barack Obama. having won a landslide victory — including 80% of the Jewish vote — and enjoying record popularity, will be immune to this sort of salvo, leaving AIPAC on the DL.

The Democratic Congres will back Obama’s Middle East policies with nary a peep. (That will change if his popularity drops. But Congressional Dems will never take on a popular Democratic President on a foreign policy issue). Obama is freer than any President in decades to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict without lobby interference.

By the way, the book is due to be published in April. Note the high praise from Ambassador Sam Lewis on the web site…!

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