New America Foundation Senior Fellow Steve Clemons released a letter to President Obama today signed by more than 40 current and former prominent figures in diplomatic, political, academic and media circles that calls on the president to instruct the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. to vote for a resolution that condemns the ongoing Israeli settlement activity in the Palestinian Occupied Territories.
The full text of the letter:
Washington, DC -- 18 January 2011
Dear Mr. President,
In light of the impasse reached in efforts to revive Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, and as the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) moves to consider a resolution condemning Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territory, we are writing to urge you to instruct our Ambassador to the United Nations to vote yes on this initiative.
The time has come for a clear signal from the United States to the parties and to the broader international community that the United States can and will approach the conflict with the objectivity, consistency and respect for international law required if it is to play a constructive role in the conflict's resolution.
While a UNSC resolution will not resolve the issue of settlements or prevent further Israeli construction activity in the Occupied Territory, it is an appropriate venue for addressing these issues and for putting all sides on notice that the continued flouting of international legality will not be treated with impunity. Nor would such a resolution be incompatible with or challenge the need for future negotiations to resolve all outstanding issues, and it would in no way deviate from our strong commitment to Israel's security.
If the proposed resolution is consistent with existing and established US policies, then deploying a veto would severely undermine US credibility and interests, placing us firmly outside of the international consensus, and further diminishing our ability to mediate this conflict.
If the U.S. believes that the text of the resolution is imperfect, there is always the opportunity to set forth additional U.S. views on settlements and related issues in an accompanying statement. The alternative to a Resolution - a consensus statement by the President of the UNSC - would have no stature under international law, hence this option should be avoided.
As you made clear, Mr. President, in your landmark Cairo speech of June 2009, "The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop."
There are today over half a million Israelis living beyond the 1967 line - greatly complicating the realization of a two-state solution. That number has grown dramatically in the years since the peace process was launched: in 1993 there were 111,000 settlers in the West Bank alone; in 2010 that number surpassed 300,000.
The settlements are clearly illegal according to article 49 of the Fourth Geneva convention - a status recognized in an opinion issued by the State Department's legal advisor on April 28, 1978, a position which has never since been revised.
That official US legal opinion describes the settlements as being "inconsistent with international law". US policy across nine administrations has been to oppose the settlements, with the focus for the last two decades being on the incompatibility of settlement construction with efforts to advance peace. The Quartet Roadmap, for instance, issued during the Bush presidency in 2003, called on Israel to "freeze all settlement activity, including natural growth."
Indeed, the US has upheld these principles, including their application to East Jerusalem, by allowing the passage of previous relevant UNSC resolutions, including: UNSCRs 446 and 465, determining that the settlements have "no legal validity"; UNSCRs 465 and 476, affirming the applicability of the Fourth Geneva convention to the Occupied Territory; UNSCRs 1397 and1850 stressing the urgency of achieving a comprehensive peace and calling for a two state solution; and UNSCR 1515, endorsing the Quartet Roadmap.
At this critical juncture, how the US chooses to cast its vote on a settlements resolution will have a defining effect on our standing as a broker in Middle East peace. But the impact of this vote will be felt well beyond the arena of Israeli-Palestinian deal-making - our seriousness as a guarantor of international law and international legitimacy is at stake.
America's credibility in a crucial region of the world is on the line - a region in which hundreds of thousands of our troops are deployed and where we face the greatest threats and challenges to our security. This vote is an American national security interest vote par excellence. We urge you to do the right thing.
At the beginning of the summer, New America Foundation president and New Yorker writer, Steve Coll, closed his New Yorker blog, Think Tank, with what he learned from blogging for the nearly two-year period he jumped in with both feet. It was time to write a book.
And with a tease, he concluded:
is just a blog post, however; I am free to revise my thinking in an
hour, or whenever I revive Think Tank (as I intend to do), and
presumably no one will notice.
Coll's presumption may have been correct. Ten days have gone by since he wrote a post that went unnoticed. What would make one of the most gifted foreign affairs writers return to Think Tank from his book hiatus?
The 9/11 anniversary? The Park51 protests? Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations? The withdrawal from Iraq?
the 2010 season, it’s the same narrative line as in previous years for
the Redskins, with some new characters to freshen up the screen. As
always, the overarching tension—the reason so many thousands keep coming
back, as they did to watch “Dallas” and “Dynasty” in a bygone
era—arises from the persistent manipulations of a wealthy, selfish
schemer, who lurks in the background while other wealthy but more
well-intentioned characters strive fruitlessly to advance themselves. In
last year’s episodes, you’ll recall that Snyder and his unsubtle
henchmen finally dispatched the cheerful but hopelessly overmatched Zen
coach, Jim Zorn, who led “hip-hip-hooray” cheers in the locker room
after very rare victories.
New America Foundation Schwartz Fellow, Reihan Salam, argues in his weekly Forbes column that what the flotilla situation shows is that Israel is "locked in a war for international legitimacy..."
In it, he writes:
The fact that Insani Yardim Vakfi (IHH), the Turkish aid organization
behind the flotilla, has explicitly aligned itself with Hamas and has
ties to global jihad networks was hardly encouraging, not least because
Hamas has been receiving weapons transported by sea. Hamas recognizes
that Turkish public opinion is crucial to its efforts to undermine
Israel's international legitimacy. After a long and fruitful period of
close collaboration between the Israeli and Turkish militaries,
Turkey's AK Party government, led by Recep Tayyip Erdogan,
has bolstered his political standing at home by loudly condemning
Israel in international forums, and now his government is demanding
that the U.S.condemn Israel. What appears to be a simple humanitarian
mission was in fact part of a carefully orchestrated campaign designed
to divide the NATO alliance and strengthen Hamas' grip on Gaza. But no
evidence will persuade the Turkish public that Israel had every right
to enforce its blockade. The country's political elites have every
reason to direct the disaffection and anger of Turks away from
themselves and towards Israel, a tactic also embraced by rulers
throughout the region.