Obama, Palestine, and the United Nations

Political cartoon

For the Palestinian Authority to win UN recognition of Palestinian statehood, it would have to overcome major hurdles presented by the Obama administration. Back in 1948, Israel achieved its independence through a U.S.-backed UN General Assembly resolution. Credit: Ramzy Taweel (Cartoon Movement).

For those of us who hoped that President Barack Obama would usher in a new era supporting international law, the United Nations, and Israeli-Palestinian peace, 2011 proved to be a profoundly disappointing year. The Obama administration blocked Palestinian membership in the UN, refused to pressure Israel to make the necessary compromises for peace, and vetoed a mildly worded UN Security Council resolution that supported the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and reiterated the illegality of Israeli settlements in occupied territories.

Though international conflicts—including those between Israel and its neighbors—have historically been addressed in the UN, the Obama administration insists that this should no longer be the case. While President Obama has been eager to use the UN to go after governments he doesn’t like—such as Iran, Syria, and Gaddafi’s Libya—he takes a very different view regarding U.S. allies like the rightist government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Despite the Israeli government’s ongoing violations of a series of UN Security Council resolutions, a landmark advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice, and basic international humanitarian law, Obama vowed last May that “we will stand against attempts to single [Israel] out for criticism in international forums.”

Back in 1988 the Palestinians declared an independent state, which has since been recognized by more than 130 of the world’s nations. When the Palestinian Authority sought membership into the UN this fall, however, the Obama administration insisted that it was still too early; it arrogantly dismissed the Palestinians’ effort to exercise their moral and legal rights to seek recognition by the international community as simply “symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations.”

Women Marching

Activists in Washington, D.C., urge Obama to push for a ceasefire amid Israel's Operation Cast Lead in January 2009. Many at the time were hopeful that the president-elect would respond to the urgency of Palestinian suffering. Creative Commons/Code Pink Women for Peace.

In October, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) voted to accept Palestine as a member. In response, the Obama administration cut all funding, which constituted a full 22 percent of the agency’s budget, thereby crippling the UN body, whose mission is “to contribute to the building of peace, the eradication of poverty, sustainable development and intercultural dialogue through education, the sciences, culture, communication and information,” with a particular emphasis in recent years on promoting gender equality. A series of measures passed by Congress in the 1990s—which the Obama administration has made no attempt to repeal—would similarly require the United States to eliminate its funding for the World Health Organization (forcing massive cutbacks in AIDS prevention, vaccination, and oral rehydration programs for millions of Africans and others) if that agency admits Palestine as a member. The United States would also cut funding for the International Atomic Energy Agency (the nuclear watchdog group), the International Civil Aviation Organization, and a dozen other UN agencies should they admit Palestine as well.

Opposing Recognition of Palestinian Statehood

The Obama administration’s opposition to UN recognition of Palestinian statehood is based on its insistence that Palestinian statehood can be recognized only following an agreement resulting from negotiations between the Israeli occupiers and the Palestinians under occupation that is facilitated by the United States—the primary military, economic, and diplomatic supporter of the occupying power.

Unfortunately, while the moderate leadership of the Palestinian Authority under President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has made a series of unprecedented compromises, the current Israeli government is the most hard-line in that country’s history and has retreated from proposals made by previous Israeli governments.

For example, Netanyahu insists that Arab East Jerusalem—the largest Palestinian city and the historic heart of Palestinian cultural, economic, religious, and academic life—should be permanently annexed to Israel, as should the Jordan Valley on the eastern border of Palestine. ...

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Stephen Zunes, a contributing editor of Tikkun, is a professor of politics and coordinator of Middle Eastern studies at the University of San Francisco.

Source Citation

Zunes, Stephen. 2012. "Obama, Palestine, and the United Nations." Tikkun 27(2): 9.

tags: Israel/Palestine, US Politics   
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One Response to Obama, Palestine, and the United Nations

  1. April April 22, 2012 at 10:30 am

    It isn’t Obama that needs to be pressured, it’s the press to tell the truth about AIPAC’s utterly legal but destructive (for Israel and America) buying of congress. Their views rule. Anyone who crosses them is defeated. They don’t represent most American Jews either. And are losing any concern at all about Israel among younger American Jews, as Israel goes farther right and more, frankly, fascistic. Sadly, I don’t expect things to change. But I do intend to go see Ben Bon Ami of J St debate Bill Kristol, not at the 92nd St Y, oddly, but at a synagogue on W. 88th.

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