Obama Break with Netanyahu's Settler Expansion Too Little, Too Late

Posted Jan. 4, 2017

MP3 Interview with Richard Silverstein, author of progressive blog Tikun Olam, conducted by Scott Harris


The Obama administration’s decision not to issue a veto on a Dec. 23 United Nations Security Council resolution that condemned Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian West Bank and East Jerusalem set off a firestorm in the U.S. and Israel. The U.S. abstained, allowing the Security Council resolution to pass with 14 votes. Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blasted President Barack Obama, accusing him of a "shameful ambush" at the United Nations. Netanyahu was joined by U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, who also criticized the UN resolution, and stated that the Palestinians would no longer have a platform at the UN when he took office.

In response, outgoing Secretary of State John Kerry defended the Obama administration’s UN vote in a Dec. 28 speech, warning that Israel’s continued expansion of Jewish settlements jeopardized the two-state solution that has been supported by both Democratic and Republican presidents in recent decades.

Israel asserted it would ignore the UN non-binding resolution, and in defiance announced that it planned to move ahead with the construction of nearly 6,000 new homes in Palestinian East Jerusalem. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Richard Silverstein of the progressive blog Tikun Olam. Here, he discusses the contradiction between the Obama administration’s recent move at the UN and its policy towards Israel over the past eight years, the future of the two-state solution and what we can expect from the incoming Trump administration on Middle East policy. [Rush transcript.]

RICHARD SILVERSTEIN: To put this all in context, I think we need to go back to the beginning of the Obama first term when he went to Cairo and made a very bold, brave speech to the Arab world talking about a new leaf, a new page in relations between the U.S. and the Middle East and how we were going to be constructive in our engagement with them and we were going to turn away from war as an instrument of policy. And everybody was very hopeful and those of us who were in the peace camp in terms of the Israeli-Arab conflict really thought he was going to be bold and he was going to go in new directions.

And we, over the course of the years, have grown very distressed and disappointed because he gave up, essentially. He refused to expend the necessary political capital to make those things happen. He refused to pressure Israel in any very serious way as some presidential administrations have done in the past. He just wanted to go along to get along basically after awhile. And then, you know, we have last week all of a sudden, as he's leaving office or about to leave office, he decides he's going to get some gumption and he decides, well, I'm going to let this resolution not be passed reviewing it. And the U.N. Security Council over the past eight years has really covered Israel's behind and vetoed ever possible resolution that is Israel viewed as a threat, including resolutions that actually agreed with our own policies. We've been vetoing right and left on Israel's behalf and all of sudden now, we did a good thing – we did the right thing, and we let this resolution pass. We, of course, could have done something even more courageous and we could have voted for it, but at least we let it pass. And the Israeli response was howling in anger, then I think, in order to staunch this blood flow, Kerry announced the speech that he was going to give.

The speech was pretty good in some ways, but it really overall was too little, too late.

BETWEEN THE LINES: In the wake of this controversial vote at the United Nations Security Council and the admission by outgoing Secretary of State John Kerry of the likelihood of the demise of the two-state solution, is it your view that the two-state solution is dead?

RICHARD SILVERSTEIN: Every Israeli government, whether it was a right-wing or a left-wing government, has refused to negotiate seriously. So, I think for all intensive purposes, two-states can't happen and that leaves really only one possible solution, and that is a one-state solution. What would that look like? Right now, we essentially have a one-state solution and Israeli is controlling most of the West Bank and there are some calls by right-wingers to annex all the West Bank. It's a question of what would they do with the Palestinians they annex? Would they give them full rights – which is doubtful. Would they give them no rights, which is possible? Or would they give them sort of second class status? And if we go in that direction, we're really talking about apartheid. We're really talking about bantustans, we may be talking about Israel granting certain small enclaves of Palestinians autonomy of some kind. But really, essentially, this is a one-state solution and we have to decide, is Israel going to be a democratic state or is it going to be an apartheid authoritarian state?

BETWEEN THE LINES: Well, into this mess comes incoming President Donald Trump. What do we know about Donald Trump and what he'll bring to the U.S. position on this conflict?

RICHARD SILVERSTEIN: He's really a tabula rasa. He's never made any – until this campaign – any serious statements about the Israeli-Palestinian or Israeli-Arab conflict. But all of the signs that we have seen are really alarming. Very, very alarming. This could be the most right-wing U.S. administration in terms of Israel that it has ever been in the history of our country, going back to 1948. Any part of the Middle East could, if a match is dropped in the right place, could lead to an intense explosion. We really could have a regional conflagration. There are nuclear weapons involved. Israel has at least 200 of them. We have to remember, really, this is one of the most frightening periods since I've been starting to write my blog.

See Silverstein's blog at richardsilverstein.com.

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