Now is the moment for President Obama to finally do something serious about Israel’s monstrous apartheid. Fresh from his foreign policy victory in normalizing relations with Cuba, without a re-election to worry about, he should not veto the Palestinian UN Security Council resolution that seeks an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land seized in 1967.
The State Department says the US will “not support” the Palestinian bid. But “not support” could include “not veto.”
In an ideal world, one in which our President acted entirely without political constraint, Obama would not only direct the US Ambassador to the UN to vote in favor of this motion, he would also cut off all $6 billion of military aid to Israel contingent on Israel radically shifting from an apartheid society to an equal-rights society; an end to land theft and colonization; and so on. Perhaps, someday sooner than we realize, we’ll have a President so fed up with Israel’s human rights violations that she or he will do the right thing.
But, to be realistic, our current President is not about to do either of these radical things. He’s lived too long under the Gulliverian constraints of the Israel lobby to flip into a full on, radical confrontation. However, an abstention might be within the realm of possibility, and would still represent a serious challenge to the Israel lobby’s political power.
Progressive Israelis are calling for a non-veto. Gideon Levy says the U.S. automatic veto is imbecilic, and a veto of justice. The Haaretz editorial board says Israelis should ‘welcome’ the Palestinian bid to set a deadline on ending the occupation.
The President has demonstrated the guts to take on major issues like immigration and relations with Cuba, and has continued to push for a diplomatic solution to the Iran nuclear standoff in the face of the lobby’s repeated objections and attempts to undermine and destroy the delicate negotiations. What does Obama have to lose at this point by abstaining from the U.N. vote? Certainly, the lobby will pressure all of Obama’s would-be successors to repudiate the decision. Be that as it may, this President is on a roll, taking action on what he sees at the right thing on some key foreign and domestic policy issues. Netanyahu’s intransigence has frustrated him for the entire duration of his tenure in the Oval Office. By now he knows that absent significant international political and economic pressure, no force of Earth will derail the Israeli political consensus of accelerating land theft and colonization. By abstaining on the UN vote, the President can step aside and allow exactly that kind of political pressure to begin to coalesce.
President Bush I withheld loan guarantees in 1991, which is probably the largest rebuke any elected U.S. official has delivered to Israel in 25 years. Some say the Israel lobby coalesced around Bill Clinton, and the resultant flood of campaign contributions made the difference in the 1992 election. But Obama has no re-election to consider; only the question of his legacy. When he remembers the death and destruction in Palestine, will he be able to look at himself in the mirror the day after he leaves office? His entire administration has been one craven cave-in after another to Benjamin Netanyahu’s agenda of increasing land theft, slaughtering civilians in Gaza, and impunity from sanctions.
Those who claim there is a ‘status quo’ in Israel (we hear that term all the time from pundits) are dead wrong. For Palestinians, there is no ‘status quo’; there is only ever-increasing oppression, an oppression that is not stable and consistent over time (as implied by ‘status quo’), but is actually getting worse, as more and more land is devoured, and more Palestinians are killed or made to live unlivable lives. The simple abstention would be Obama leaving a mark in the column of justice and fairness, and a challenge to the ever-worsening oppression of the Palestinians.