The only thing that is regrettable about the Obama administration decision not to veto the UN Security Council’s resolution demanding an end to the Israeli settlement activity on Palestinian lands is that it arrived so late in the day. I do not, of course, mean the calendar date of December 23, 2016, when the vote took place, but rather the very end of Obama’s second term in office.
Like the Hegelian rendition of the Owl of Minerva, the bird of American diplomacy took its flight at dusk, when things were already grey and it was too late to effect a real change on the ground. Were Obama to assume this principled stance at the outset of his renewed mandate, he would have maybe (just maybe!) been able to exert enough pressure on the Israelis to go back to the negotiating table with the view to a lasting resolution of the conflict and a creation of a viable Palestinian state. Instead, we are privy to a last-minute scramble to ensure a “legacy” that is certain to be dismantled by the incoming Trump team.
For, particularly with regard to Israel/Palestine, we know what is to come in the near future from the President-Elect’s corner. Given his admiration for Netanyahu’s “separation barrier,” seen as a model for the proposed wall on the southern border of the United States and given his choice of the ambassador to Israel, namely bankruptcy attorney David Friedman, Trump will act to guarantee the impossibility of Mideast peace.
There is, actually, a curious parallel between the expected policies of the new administration in the sphere of fossil fuels and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Both can be summed up by the slogan associated with Sarah Palin’s failed vice-presidential bid: “Burn, baby, burn!” In the face of catastrophic climate change, the plan is to increase, instead of diminishing, American reliance on fossil fuels; in the case of the fading chance for peace through a two-state solution, the idea is to take sides, definitively and univocally, with one of the parties to the conflict (Israel), while defunding the UN along the way. If both policy developments proceed as expected, then they will function as accelerants—in the dual sense of the word—for the collapse of a livable environment and for the intensification of hostilities in the Middle East.
Obama’s endgame is the same when it comes to fossil fuels and Israel/Palestine: as part of his legacy project, he is signing decrees to protect the oceans from oil drilling and finally standing up to Israel’s aggressive and unchecked settlement expansion. Should we judge the last eight years by these eleventh-hour attempts, the looming inauguration would appear to be a radical break with a “progressive” agenda on environmental and diplomatic fronts. But the true break is between what has been going on throughout Obama’s consecutive terms and the very final stretch of his tenure in the White House. To stick to our examples, the fossil fuel industry has thrived on his watch and settlement construction heated up, backed by record-breaking “aid” the US granted Israel.
For those still after the silver lining of Trump’s surprising victory this November, look no further. As I have observed in the LA Review of Books’ “Philosophical Salon”: “What the election of Trump signals is that the ideological screens concealing … unmitigated catastrophes have fallen and that we can no longer congratulate ourselves on symbolic victories while moving at full speed toward environmental and social collapse.” This applies, among other things, to the long-standing American policies on fossil fuel and Israel, draped, until now, in the attractive ideological veils of a transition to “clean energy” and diplomatic neutrality, respectively.
Despite all the political exertions by the outgoing administration, Trump reveals the truth of Obama, as well as of the previous US presidents. Tardily does the Owl of Minerva spread its wings; the Obama legacy might well be Trump himself.