x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

US rhetoric on settlements tested at the UN

Washington appears ready to commit to paper what it has only committed to in rhetoric before: a condemnation of Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank.

A good tongue lashing hurts, but it rarely stings. American criticism of Israeli policy offers a case in point. As much of the rest of the world has stood up at the United Nations to ink its displeasure with Israel for decades, one nation has proven the reliable spoiler. All of which makes America’s support for a new Security Council statement condemning Israel’s settlement construction encouraging.

The US Ambassador to the UN has reportedly expressed interest in a measure that, in part, “does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity”.

It would be wrong to read too much into this latest American concession. For one, the draft statement is a compromise meant to convince the Palestinians not to bring a full resolution to the chamber, a calculation that might not pay off. Washington has already hinted it would veto any resolution that condemned settlements as illegal. And in fact, signs are that the American proposal has been rejected, and that a resolution will be debated today.

Still, it would be a mistake not to be encouraged by America’s tentative change of heart. Israeli aggression is finally being challenged.

Part of this calculation could very well be a result of popular unrest in the Middle East. While condemnation of Israeli settlement activities is one topic Arab and Muslim states agree on, the end to Hosni Mubarak’s rule in Egypt has altered US-Israeli calculus. As one former Palestinian adviser told an American broadcaster this week: Egypt was “a game-changer” for Middle East peace. With Mr Mubarak gone, Palestinians may be more willing to challenge the status quo.

It has also helped that the Israeli leadership have become increasingly intransigent in recent months. The US president Barack Obama, unlike his predecessors, has been more willing to stand up to his Israeli counterparts.

But perhaps the most credit belongs to the Palestinian leadership. By essentially daring the Obama administration to cast its first ever veto at the UN Security Council, the Palestinians have sought to highlight American isolation on the 15-nation council.

The United States, like virtually every other UN nation, opposes settlement construction in principle. It is high-time that Washington commit to paper what it has long committed to in rhetoric.