US Feels The Heat On Palestine Vote At UN
06 December 2014
By Jonathan Cook in Nazareth
The floodgates have begun to open across Europe on
recognition of Palestinian statehood. On Friday the
Portuguese parliament became the latest European
legislature to call on its government to back
statehood, joining Sweden, Britain, Ireland, France
In coming days similar moves are expected in Denmark
and from the European Parliament. The Swiss government
will join the fray too this week, inviting states that
have signed the Fourth Geneva Convention to an
extraordinary meeting to discuss human rights
violations in the occupied territories. Israel has
But while Europe is tentatively finding a voice in the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict, silence reigns across
the Atlantic. The White House appears paralysed,
afraid to appear out of sync with world opinion but
more afraid still of upsetting Israel and its powerful
allies in the US Congress.
Now there is an additional complicating factor. The
Israeli public, due to elect a new Israeli government
in three months' time, increasingly regards the US
role as toxic. A poll this month found that 52 per
cent viewed President Barack Obama's diplomatic policy
as "bad", and 37 per cent thought he had a negative
attitude towards their country – more than double the
figure two years ago.
US Secretary of State John Kerry alluded to the White
House's difficulties this month when he addressed the
Saban Forum, an annual gathering of US policy elites
to discuss the Middle East. He promised that
Washington would not interfere in Israel's elections.
According to the Israeli media, he was responding to
pressure from Tzipi Livni, sacked this month from
Benjamin Netanyahu's government, triggering the
forthcoming election, and opposition leader Yitzhak
Herzog, of the centre-left Labor party.
The pair recently made a pact in an effort to oust
Netanyahu. Their electoral success – improbable at the
moment – offers the White House its best hope of an
Israeli government that will at least pay lip service
to a renewal of peace negotiations, which collapsed
last April. They have warned, however, that any sign
of backing from the Obama administration would be the
kiss of death at the polls.
US officials would like to see Netanyahu gone, not
least because he has been the biggest obstacle to
reviving a peace process that for two decades
successfully allayed international pressure to create
a Palestinian state. But any visible strategy against
Netanyahu is almost certain to backfire.
Washington's difficulties are only underscored by the
Palestinians' threat to bring a draft resolution
before the UN Security Council as soon as this week,
demanding Israel's withdrawal by late 2016 to the 1967
Given the current climate, the Palestinians are
hopeful of winning the backing of European states,
especially the three key ones in the Security Council
– Britain, France and Germany – and thereby isolating
the US. Arab foreign ministers met Kerry on Tuesday in
an effort to persuade Washington not to exercise its
The US, meanwhile, is desperately trying to postpone a
vote, fearful that casting its veto might further
discredit it in the eyes of the world while also
suggesting to Israeli voters that Netanyahu has the
White House in his pocket.
But indulging the Israeli right also has risks,
bolstering it by default. That danger was driven home
during another session of the Saban Forum, addressed
by settler leader Naftali Bennett. He is currently
riding high in the polls and will likely be the
backbone of the next coalition government.
Bennett says clearly what Netanyahu only implies: that
most of the West Bank should be annexed, with the
Palestinians given demilitarised islands of territory
that lack sovereignty. The model, called "autonomy",
is of the Palestinians ruling over a series of local
The Washington audience was further shocked by
Bennett's disrespectful treatment of his interviewer,
Martin Indyk, who served as Obama's representative at
the last round of peace talks. He accused Indyk of not
living in the real world, dismissively calling him
part of the "peace industry".
Bennett's goal, according to analysts, was to prove to
Israeli voters that he is not afraid to stand up to
Given its weakening hand – faced with an ever-more
rightwing Israeli public and a more assertive European
one – Washington is looking towards an unlikely
saviour. The hawkish foreign minister Avigdor
Lieberman used to be its bete noire, but he has been
carefully recalibrating his image.
Unlike other candidates, he has been aggressively
promoting a "peace plan". The US has barely bothered
examining its contents, which are only a little more
generous than Bennett's annexation option, and involve
forcibly stripping hundreds of thousands of
Palestinians in Israel of their citizenship.
Lieberman, however, has usefully created the
impression that he is a willing partner to a peace
process. At the weekend he even suggested he might
join a centre coalition with Livni and Herzog.
Lieberman is cleverly trying to occupy a middle ground
with Israeli voters, demonstrating that he can placate
the Americans, while offering a plan so unfair to the
Palestinians that there is no danger voters will
consider him part of the "peace industry".
That may fit the electoral mood: a recent poll showed
63 per cent of Israelis favour peace negotiations, but
70 per cent think they are doomed to fail. The Israeli
public, like Lieberman, understands that the
Palestinians will never agree to the kind of
subjugation they are being offered.
The Israeli election's one certain outcome is that,
whoever wins, the next coalition will, actively or
passively, allow more of the same: a slow, creeping
annexation of what is left of a possible Palestinian
state, as the US and Europe bicker.
Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize
for Journalism. His latest books are "Israel and the
Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to
Remake the Middle East" (Pluto Press) and
"Disappearing Palestine: Israel's Experiments in Human
Despair" (Zed Books). His website is