Column: Barack Obama – A true friend to Israel

In his letter to the editor today, Gerald Hall questions whether the United States is still a friend to the State of Israel. He claims the Obama administration has “shamefully betrayed” its ally by refusing to stop a Security Council resolution that he calls the “harshest the UN has ever passed.”

The Conservative Party of Canada appears to agree with him.

In a press release, foreign affairs critic Peter Kent said he was “disappointed in the actions of the outgoing Obama administration, which abandoned historic United States precedent by refusing to veto this one-sided and prejudiced resolution.”

Let’s take a moment to consider what this resolution actually says.

It says that the settlements built in occupied Palestinian territory have “no legal

validity,” represent “a flagrant violation of international law” and stand in the way of the peace process.

It calls on Israel to stop building settlements and says that the Security Council will never recognize any unilateral changes to the borders between Israel and the West Bank, as they existed prior to the 1967 war.

None of this is new.

A 1980 Security Council resolution said that efforts to change the status of the occupied territories have “no legal validity” and that settlements constitute a “flagrant violation of the Geneva Convention.”

Two 1979 resolution used similar terms. All three use much harsher language than the Security Council chose last week. They “strongly deplore” Israeli policies, while last week’s resolution only “reiterates,” “reaffirms,” “underlines” and “stresses.”

Jimmy Carter let them pass – without a veto.

Peter Kent’s statement is particularly dishonest when, echoing Netanyahu, he claims that “the wording of the resolution appears to suggest that the Western Wall and East Jerusalem should become part of a Palestinian state.”

It suggests nothing of the sort. The resolution mentions East Jerusalem, but only to condemn settlements there. It does not rule out the possibility that parts of East Jerusalem, including the Western Wall, will become part of Israel, but says this must take place “through negotiations.”

This is also not new. In 1980, the Security Council said it was “deeply concerned” about settlements “in the occupied Arab territories, including Jerusalem.”

What is unusual, for a UN resolution critical of Israeli policy, is the call to prevent “acts of violence against civilians, including acts of terror” and to “clearly condemn all acts of terrorism.”

This point is directed at the Palestinian leadership. Israel is right to complain when the UN passes unbalanced resolutions that fail to recognize the threats Israeli citizens face every day. This is not one of those resolutions, and Israel has the United States to thank for that.

Unfortunately, Israel’s Prime Minister doesn’t seem to know who his friends are. On Wednesday, Benjamin Netanyahu claimed – without offering evidence – that the United States was behind the resolution. In fact, the United States likely played a role in tempering the excesses of other members on the Security Council.

Barack Obama is a friend to Israel. Earlier this year, his administration committed a record $38 billion in military aid to the Israeli Defense Forces, to be paid over a ten-year period.

Israel currently receives more US military assistance than all other countries combined. Over Obama’s term, the US has repeatedly vetoed anti-Israel resolutions.

But this time was different.

As US Secretary of State John Kerry suggested on Wednesday, friends don’t stand by, silently, and let friends harm their own interests.

Netanyahu’s government continues to approve settlements in the West Bank, hundreds of housing units at a time. There are now well over 500,000 Israelis living there. Many settlements cut deep into Palestinian territory, bisecting communities and undermining any attempt to build a viable Palestinian state.

Hard-line ministers in Netanyahu’s cabinet appear to be seeking exactly that. Some, like Education Minister Naftali Bennett, call for annexing large swaths of Palestinian land. Others, including the largely ceremonial president, call for a greater Israel – a Jewish state encompassing all the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

That territory is home to millions of Palestinians. Their population is growing – and they will never accept living as second-class citizens in a country that rejects their identity.

That doesn’t bode well for Israel’s future. In his remarks on Wednesday, John Kerry put it best:

“If the choice is one state, Israel can either be Jewish or democratic – it cannot be both – and it won’t ever really be at peace.”