Obama's contribution to ending the occupation: "pointless speeches"

December 25, 2016

In Blog News

Obama’s UN vote on Israeli settlements: Where have you been for 8 years, Mr. President?

Instead of justifying his Nobel Peace Prize, Obama wasted his presidency on empty talk. Under the outgoing president, the U.S. effort to end the Israeli occupation met its demise.

By Aluf Benn | Dec. 24, 2016 | 1:54 PM

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s court and the speakers of the Israeli right on Friday leveled insults at outgoing U.S. President Barack Obama, who allowed the UN Security Council to adopt Resolution 2334 against Israeli settlements.

>> Get all updates on Israel, Palestinians and the U.S.: Download our App, sign up to Breaking News Alerts, and Subscribe >>

The abuse and rage are unfair. Upon completing his tenure, Obama is worthy of honorary membership in the Yesha Council, the Israeli settlements’ umbrella organization, as well as the Likud Central Committee. His late support for the UN Security Council resolution, a moment before he packs up his bags turns over the keys to the White House to Donald Trump, is typical of his eight-year presidency, during which the U.S. effort to end the Israeli-Arab Conflict met its demise.

Obama assumed the presidency with lofty declarations against the settlements, calling the Israeli-Palestinian peace an “American interest.” But beyond partial steps that achieved nothing and pointless speeches, he didn’t even once use his presidential clout to realize the two-state solution. In his first term, Obama appointed George Mitchell as his special envoy to the Middle East, and forced a temporary settlement construction moratorium on Netanyahu. In his second term, Secretary of State John Kerry was dispatched to take part in futile talks with Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. When this effort failed as well, Obama folded, making do with highly publicized rebukes made in response to reports of expanded settlement construction.

Ending the occupation and the conflict are first and foremost an Israeli and Palestinian interest, not an American one. But as a global superpower committed through statements, actions and budgets to Israel’s security and Palestinian independence, the U.S. has responsibility. The hopes and expectations for Obama have been especially big because he represents human rights and concern for the weak. But instead of justifying the Nobel Peace Prize that he was awarded in the beginning of his tenure, Obama has given up on the effort that all his predecessors since 1967 have made to end the conflict, recoiling from political risks.

His farewell gesture at the Security Council doesn’t stray from the pattern that has characterized his policy. Obama only dared to confront Netanyahu from the safety of the presidential transition period, during which actions are free of political considerations. After all, his party lost the election and won’t have to implement the resolution.

President-elect Donald Trump’s administration isn’t bound by any public commitment to the two-state solution or to restraining settlement construction. Figures close to the incoming president, including his designated ambassador to Israel, support the Netanyahu-Bennett government’s annexation policy. Minister Naftali Bennett, the head of the Habayit Hayehudi party, has already declared that the time has come to  promote his initiative to annex Area C in the West Bank, and the Security Council resolution will only encourage the Israeli right to show the UN up and assert more destructive facts on the ground.

This is why Obama’s late political bravery shouldn’t inspire awe. Eight years have been wasted on empty talk while Israel’s rightist government accelerated the settlement and continued to blur the Green Line. Obama promised to end the occupation, but by avoiding political risks and moves that have low chances of success, he laid the cornerstone for a single state.