Just a few months ago in September, I wrote a piece for The Concordian Politics called “Charting a Course”. The gist of the piece was basically the idea that the United States needs to disabuse itself of the notion that it can unilaterally shape the affairs of the world to its liking. In the United Nations the other day, there was a vote scheduled which ties in to this very idea. The vote taken by the General Assembly was largely symbolic, but its primary effect was to upgrade Palestine from “non-member observer entity” to “non-member observer state” at the United Nations. The vote sailed to victory with a huge margin, passing 138-9. Interestingly, though perhaps unsurprisingly, the United States was not among the nations who voted for the resolution.

Both the United States and Israeli governments dismissed the vote as counterproductive. The Israeli ambassador to the U.N. argued “it pushes [the peace process] backwards”. Such language from Israel and the United States is more than a little bit disappointing. The peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinians has been stalled without any kind of significant movement for years even though pretty much everybody involved with the negotiations agrees the problem requires a two-state solution, yet for all this consensus we are really very little closer to ending this decades old conflict. In fact just today word leaked out of the Israeli government of plans to build 3,000 settlement units in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, part of the territory which would supposedly go to the Palestinians in a two-state solution.

This is not a new phenomenon. The Israeli government was forced to halt construction plans in these same zones under pressure from George W. Bush’s administration. Israel’s response to the developments in the U.N. seems therefore to be pretty much the same thing they’ve been doing for decades. The U.S. government’s response to these plans was to in turn call them“counterproductive”. What this reveals is a lack of any coherent policy on the status of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Despite the calls from Washington and Tel Aviv for Palestine to return to the negotiating table, the two nations have thus far given very little indication that peaceful means of achieving a lasting peace might be effective. It’s unclear what the White House feels would be a better negotiating table than the floor of the Untied Nations General Assembly. Now, to be fair, there is more than enough egg for the faces of all parties U.S., Palestinian, and Israeli alike. But the last several years have also given little indication that Israel feels that it stands to gain from continuing the peace process.

The piece I wrote for The Concordian Politics in September read in part

“…the role of the United States in the formation of a democratic Middle East cannot be understated. The United States is in a unique position to help these emerging democracies confront the same challenges America faced when it was first created and still confronts to this day more than 200 years after our founding — the role of a free press, the scope and scale of military and executive power, how best to form a judiciary to interpret the law, to name just a few.”

It is still the case that the United States cannot force peace, cannot shape the world according to its interests, without the cooperation of the global community but what the United States missed on Thursday was something even bigger than that. It was an opportunity to lead by example. It was an opportunity to pronounce the basic humanity of a long suffering people and to reaffirm the tenets of our founding, that we hold to be self evident certain truths and the rights of justice and freedom and which, we know in our hearts, can only be denied if we say nothing to defend them.

 

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