This piece also appears at TPM Cafe
The U.N. Security Council today passed its first resolution on Israeli-Palestinian peace process-related issues in 5 years. The resolution was essentially intended to anchor the Annapolis process as an ongoing effort in moving forward beyond the Bush Administration and it closely followed the language of a Quartet statement from last month. UNSCR 1850, however, not only contains little that is new, it also offers very little encouragement that progress is being made by the current approach to Israeli-Palestinian peace-making.
From the Bush Administration’s perspective it is a last gasp effort at legacy-building, having failed to achieve the goals set out at Annapolis one year ago. How ironic that this Administration would seek a U.N. imprimatur for that legacy, given its characteristic hostility to the U.N. and indeed to multilateralism and international law in general. But this is an unhelpful resolution, and it looks like the Bushies are having a farewell snicker at the U.N. Plaza.
From the international community’s perspective, this looks like a farewell gesture to an Administration who for seven years neglected Israeli-Palestinian peace-making and whose belated efforts were never really found to be convincing. So it can only be hoped that UNSCR 1850 in no way locks the Obama Administration into an Annapolis process that is structurally flawed. The resolution’s insistence on maintaining bi-lateral Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, on pursuing the Roadmap and on adhering to the Quartet principles for engagement with Palestinians all seem woefully inadequate when faced with the real challenges that will have to be overcome to advance progress toward Israeli-Palestinian conflict resolution.
Only this month two of the most respected establishment Washington think tanks, the Council on Foreign Relations and Brookings, suggested dropping those Quartet principles: “Washington should eschew the Quartet’s conditions on Hamas.” The bi-lateral negotiations themselves will almost certainly need to be buttressed by external intervention, as two of the wisest U.S. national security heads, Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft have suggested: “A key element in any new initiative would be for the U.S. president to declare publicly what, in the view of this country, the basic parameters of a fair and enduring peace ought to be.”
More than anything, UNSCR 1850 looks like a clumsy attempt to intervene in domestic Israeli and Palestinian politics—and one that is likely to backfire.
When Israelis go the polls in February, the main choice for Prime Minister will be between the Annapolis-supporting Tzipi Livni (Kadima) and the more hawkish Benjamin Netanyahu (Likud). If this resolution is designed to embarrass Netanyahu and to tie his hands when it discusses the “irreversibility of the bilateral negotiations”, then it is unlikely to succeed. The Israeli-voting public can be open to listening to messages from the international community, but not when they are delivered with so little sophistication, in a way that lacks meaning, teeth, or follow-up and that actually borders on being nonsensical—what on earth does the “irreversibility of the bi-lateral negotiations” even mean?
The effort to assist the Palestinian Fatah leadership in Ramallah is even more woeful, transparent, and unconvincing. The resolution “calls on all states and international organizations…to support the Palestinian government that is committed to the Quartet principles and…to maximize the resources available for the Palestinian Authority.” Yet one has to question how much of a selling point this resolution can be with the Palestinian public when the entire text makes no mention of occupation, settlements, or the humanitarian situation in Gaza—all things that might just concern the average Palestinian If anything this is only likely to further discredit the P.A.
A U.N. Security Council Resolution is a tool that if effectively deployed could be helpful in advancing Israeli-Palestinian peace, but Resolution 1850 only cheapens and demeans this tool. That the resolution has been largely well received is perhaps testimony to only how low the bar has now been placed for what is considered to be a positive development on Israel-Palestine. International support for such a timid approach, and one so steeped in the failure of the past, is unfortunate to say the least. It is also very out of sync with the hope and expectation of more effective and creative diplomacy that has characterized the international mood since the election of Barack Obama.
In fact, this is not the only issue on which the Bush Administration is trying to have a last laugh at the United Nations—they are also pushing for a UN Security Council Resolution on the situation in Somalia to militarily protect the discredited and impotent Transitional Federal Government there. Bush’s Somalia policy has come close to being matched in its wrongheaded ideological dogmatism and devastating effects by the policy towards the Palestinians.
The only good news is that this resolution was the product of U.S.-Russian co-sponsorship (nice to see) and that like the many Israel-Palestine resolutions that preceded it, this one too is likely to be ignored.