December 29, 2016
Dear Ambassador Power,
I write in response to your abstention on Friday which allowed a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israel, and in response to the substantial explanation of vote that you delivered. With even further U.N. measures still possible before President Obama leaves office on January 20th, I urge you and the Administration—where you play an influential role as a member of the President’s Cabinet, and as one of President Obama’s most trusted advisors—to reconsider your approach.
Your speech on Friday had much to applaud. As you have vigorously done for three years, your remarks exposed in compelling detail the U.N. double standard applied to the Jewish state, which, you rightly said, “not only hurts Israel, it undermines the legitimacy of the United Nations itself.”
As you noted last year on the 40th anniversary of the infamous Zionism is Racism resolution, at the U.N. “rarely a day goes by without some effort to delegitimize Israel.” On that occasion, you called for everyone to “relentlessly fight back” against this “ignorance and hatred.”
Your vote on Friday, however, makes a dramatic break with all of this. While it is perfectly legitimate to disagree with Israel about settlements, allowing Resolution 2334 to pass was morally wrong and strategically damaging. As set forth below, we believe the U.S. decision to acquiesce in the adoption of this lopsided resolution reverses decades of past practice, sets back the cause of peace, and harms the interests of Israelis, Palestinians, and Americans.
Leader’s of Israel’s Left-Wing Opposition Reject U.N. Resolution
Immediate and compelling evidence demonstrates that the Administration has failed to achieve its objective, which you articulated as promoting the two-state solution.
Secretary Kerry’s speech yesterday failed to acknowledge the telling fact that Israel’s mainstream society, including leading supporters of the two-state solution, have sharply rejected the U.N. resolution, and criticized the U.S. role in its advancement and adoption.
- Isaac Herzog, leader of the opposition and chairman of the Labor Party—whom you recently recognized for being “so principled on behalf of peace”—called for Resolution 2334 to be annulled, saying it caused “severe damage.”
- Similarly, his colleague, former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, who led efforts to achieve a two-state solution at the Annapolis Conference, and who welcomed the 2008 Security Council resolution endorsing that summit, said by contrast that Friday’s U.S.-backed resolution “harms the interests of Israel,” “harms Jerusalem,” and threatens to haul Israeli officers to the International Criminal Court.
- Yair Lapid, chair of the Yesh Atid opposition party, who has endorsed the Saudi-Arab Peace Initiative as a basis for peace talks, and who opposes the proposed Knesset bill to legalize outposts which you cited on Friday, called the U.N. resolution “dangerous”, “unfair, and “an act of hypocrisy.”
- Ehud Barak, who as prime minister went to Camp David in 2000 and extended an unprecedented and far-reaching peace offer to the Palestinians, called this resolution a “humiliating blow to Israel.”
- Amos Yadlin, head of Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies, the country’s most influential think tank, and another prominent supporter of the two-state solution, said that the resolution was “extremely problematic for Israel and the peace process alike,” and he accused President Obama of committing “a severe anti-Israeli move” which “harmed the United States’ staunchest ally in the Middle East.”
To be sure, all of these left-leaning figures faulted or admonished Prime Minister Netanyahu for failing to head off the blow. Yet neither President Obama, Secretary Kerry or anyone else in your Administration has yet addressed the astonishing fact that their closest Israeli political allies and interlocutors in promoting the peace process have uniformly denounced an action which you claim will advance their position.
Hamas & Islamic Jihad Terrorists Cheer Resolution: “Now Israel Can Be Isolated, Boycotted, Prosecuted”
By contrast, are you not troubled that among the first to endorse the resolution were the terrorist groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad? “Hamas commends the countries that voiced their opposition to the Israeli occupation’s aggressive settlement policy aimed against the Palestinian people,” said Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum. Hamas praised “the important about-face in the international position in favor of the Palestinian people.” Iran-backed Islamic Jihad welcomed the U.S.-backed resolution, saying, “It’s plain to see the world opinion is against Israel and its policies,” and “now Israel can be isolated and boycotted, as well as prosecuted in the international arena for all its crimes.”
12 Reasons Why the U.S. Should Have Vetoed U.N. Resolution 2334
To understand why, by contrast, so many supporters of Israeli-Palestinian peace oppose what you did on Friday, I urge you and the Administration to consider the following 12 points:
1. Resolution 2334 Encourages Palestinian Rejectionism, Undermines Negotiations
The resolution dangerously disincentivizes Palestinians to come to the negotiating table. Instead, Resolution 2334 will for the foreseeable future encourage them to await being handed the same or more by international fiat. This will feed into the Palestinian strategy of preferring to deal with international institutions over bilateral talks with Israel. Contrary to its stated objective, therefore, the resolution will only push negotiations further away.
In this regard, we recall that in 2011, your predecessor Susan Rice vetoed a similar resolution on the grounds that it risked “hardening the positions of both sides,” and “could encourage the parties to stay out of negotiations.” She said it was “unwise for this Council to attempt to resolve the core issues that divide Israelis and Palestinians.”
Though your speech claims that circumstances have now changed, many will see the only meaningful difference as the fact that the current transition period allows a president to make unpopular decisions at no political cost.
2. Resolution Fuels Palestinian Targeting of Israelis with BDS & International Prosecutions
Secretary of State John Kerry pledged this month to oppose any “biased, unfair resolution calculated to delegitimize Israel.” And though he likewise said on Friday after the vote that he is proud of “defending Israel against any efforts to undermine its security or legitimacy in international fora,” and “steadfastly opposing boycotts, divestment campaigns and sanctions targeting the State of Israel,” the fact is that these are precisely the efforts empowered by Resolution 2334.
Friday’s text not only provides the first Security Council endorsement of the scandalous 2004 ICJ advisory opinion, which denied Israel’s right to defend itself from Gaza rockets, but it implicitly encourages the International Criminal Court (ICC) to move forward in its preliminary examination of whether Israeli officials have engaged in the “war crime” of settlement building, and provides the same impetus to prosecutions in national courts that claim universal jurisdiction. If Tzipi Livni was already being served with UK arrest warrants before, Resolution 2334 will only aggravate anti-Israel lawfare. The U.S. should never have lent its hand to a campaign designed to delegitimize Israeli civil and military leaders as criminals.
Moreover, the resolution’s appeal to all states to take action, in paragraph 5, is a clear call to escalate campaigns seeking to boycott Israeli products, companies and citizens. Certainly the UN Human Rights Council will feel empowered to continue preparing its blacklist of Israeli companies that do business over the green line, due in March. Meanwhile, the resolution’s mandated reports by the Secretary-General every three months will ensure constant activity.
3. Contrary to U.S. Claims, Resolution Fails to Condemn Palestinian Incitement
You said after the vote that the U.S. “would not have let this resolution pass had it not also addressed counterproductive actions by the Palestinians such as terrorism and incitement to violence.” Yet that is exactly what happened: the resolution that was adopted mentions terrorism and incitement only in the abstract; nowhere are these crimes attributed to Palestinians. Whereas Israel is named and shamed throughout the text, the Palestinians get a free pass. The U.S. reversed decades of past practice by allowing the adoption of such an unbalanced text.
The failure of this resolution to truly confront Palestinian incitement is not inconsistent with your failure to speak out against the routine incitement to antisemitism and terrorism by Palestinian school principals and teachers at UNRWA, to which your Administration gave $380 million last year. We sent you petition after petition, supported by thousands worldwide, yet your only statements on UNRWA have been to defend or promote the organization, not to hold it accountable. I hope you will change your approach when we soon reveal the latest trove of UNRWA’s online incitement.
4. Blames Israel as “Major Obstacle” to Peace, Yet Palestinians Evade Responsibility
Despite the fact that the Palestinians refuse to negotiate without preconditions, refused to negotiate even during Israel’s 2009-2010 settlement freeze, rejected the Kerry framework principles, and are inciting to terrorism at the highest levels, they are spared in the resolution from any blame. Instead, the resolution accuses Israel alone of creating, with the settlements, “a major obstacle” to just, lasting and comprehensive peace.
5. Failure to Distinguish Settlements Loses Israeli Mainstream
By ignoring the 2000 Clinton Parameters, the Obama Administration unwisely managed to alienate itself from the vast majority of the Israeli population and political parties, who regard the Jewish Quarter, the Western Wall, and Jewish neighborhoods in eastern Jerusalem such as Ramot and Gilo as an integral part of Israel—all of which are defined in the resolution as “occupied Palestinian territory”—and likewise, the Israeli Jewish communities in the large settlement blocs such as Gush Etzion have for years been considered part of the Israeli consensus. The U.S. failure to distinguish between these and isolated, remote settlements is what doomed the U.N. resolution to complete rejection by Israeli society as a whole.
6. Offensive to Call Jerusalem’s Jewish Holy Sites “Occupied Palestinian Territory”
The resolution is offensive to Jews worldwide by absurdly defining the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem, and the holiest Jewish sites of the Temple Mount and Western Wall, as “occupied Palestinian territory.” In describing your commitment to Israel as both personal and profound, you have on several occasions noted before Jewish and Israeli audiences that your son is a descendant, from his father’s side, of Rabbi Elijah, the 18th-century Lithuanian Jewish sage known as the Vilna Gaon, considered the greatest Talmudic scholar of his time.
Given that the Gaon’s vision of return to the Land of Israel was a decisive factor in the rebuilding of the Jewish Quarter, by inspiring hundreds of his disciples to immigrate to Jerusalem in the early 19th century, and given that we are about to mark the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, which recognized the ancient, indigenous Jewish rights to the Holy Land—formalized internationally in the League of Nations Mandate on Palestine, which stated that the British Administration “shall encourage… close settlement by Jews, on the land”—I hope you will reconsider the logic of now criminalizing Jewish residents of the Jewish Quarter.
7. Seeks to Relitigate & Rewrite Cornerstone Resolution 242
By injecting new language enshrining “the 4 June 1967 lines,” the resolution seeks to relitigate and rewrite U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 of November 1967, the cornerstone of Arab-Israeli peace negotiations over the past half-century—endorsed by the Palestinians at Oslo—which calls for the right of every state to live in peace within “secure and recognized boundaries” and for Israel to withdraw “from territories occupied.”
Your predecessor Arthur Goldberg, former Supreme Court Justice and U.S. ambassador to the U.N. when 242 was enacted, made clear that the text’s “notable omissions in language” on withdrawal are the words “the,” “all,” and the “June 5, 1967, lines.” The choice of language was clear, he explained: “there is lacking a declaration requiring Israel to withdraw from the (or all the) territories occupied by it on and after June 5, 1967.”
Instead, the resolution “stipulates withdrawal from occupied territories without defining the extent of withdrawal.” And it “can be inferred from the incorporation of the words secure and recognized boundaries that the territorial adjustments to be made by the parties in their peace settlements could encompass less than a complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from occupied territories.” Goldberg likewise told King Hussein in the lead-up to 242 that there was a “need for some territorial adjustment.”
8. Explanation of Vote Misstates Longstanding U.S. Policy
Your speech on Friday opened with a 1982 quote from President Ronald Reagan opposing settlements, and you argued that “our vote today is fully in line with the bipartisan history” of how American presidents have approached the issue. In fact, your speech was selective, excluding material statements by U.S. leaders rejecting the notion of return to the 1949 armistice lines, what Israeli statesman Abba Eban once called “Auschwitz borders.”
- For example, you failed to quote the rest of President Reagan’s statement, in which he said: “I have personally followed and supported Israel’s heroic struggle for survival, ever since the founding of the State of Israel 34 years ago. In the pre-1967 borders Israel was barely 10 miles wide at its narrowest point. The bulk of Israel’s population lived within artillery range of hostile Arab armies. I am not about to ask Israel to live that way again.”
- Nor did you quote President Lyndon Johnson who said: “We are not the ones to say where other nations should draw lines between them that will assure each the greatest security. It is clear, however, that a return to the situation of June 4, 1967, will not bring peace. There must be secure, and there must be recognized, borders.”
- Likewise, you omitted Secretary of State Schultz’s 1988 statement: “The territorial issue needs to be addressed realistically. Israel will never negotiate from or return to the lines of partition or to the 1967 borders.”
- The Clinton parameters of December 2000, which contemplates Israeli annexation of large settlement blocs, are also ignored by the resolution.
9. U.S. Position Reneges on Commitments in 2004 Bush-Sharon Letters
By allowing the resolution’s new language enshrining “the 4 June 1967 lines,” which are the 1949 armistice lines, the U.S. position reneges on the 2004 exchange of letters negotiated between Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and President George W. Bush. The Bush letter stated: “In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949, and all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same conclusion.”
Prime Minister Sharon relied on the Bush commitments as part of negotiated package deal, being the consideration Israel received and relied upon in exchange for its total withdrawal from Gaza. When the U.S. ignores written commitments to allies, its international credibility is dangerously diminished. Moreover, the Bush letter severely undermines your claim that the U.S. vote on Friday was “fully in line” with prior history.
10. Resolution Lacks Legitimacy in U.S. Opinion
The resolution has been firmly rejected by the broad mainstream of American society, including by congressional leaders of President Obama’s own party:
- Incoming Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) called the U.S. vote “frustrating, disappointing and confounding” and said it will move the Middle East farther from peace.\
- Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) was “deeply disappointed” that the administration “set aside longstanding U.S. policy to allow such a one-sided resolution to pass.”
- The U.S. abstention on “such a flagrantly one-sided resolution,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Vt.), “is unconscionable.”
- Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) said he was “dismayed that the Administration departed from decades of U.S. policy by not vetoing the U.N. resolution.”
- Even President Obama’s former Special Envoy for Middle East Peace opposed the decision. “President Obama would have been wise to veto this resolution,” said George Mitchell, a former Senate majority leader, “because of the timing and the circumstance that it leads to with respect to trying to get the parties together.”
- The Washington Post called the U.S. decision a “dangerous parting shot at Israel,” likely to do more harm than good.
11. Reverses Decades of U.S. Practice
There has not been a resolution like this in a generation, not since the Carter years in 1979 and 1980, and even those resolutions did not take place during a time of extreme anti-Israeli BDS campaigns and in the context of global anti-Israeli lawfare prosecutions sought in the ICC and elsewhere. This reverses decades of practice by both Democratic and Republican presidents. Moreover, unlike with the few other U.S-backed resolutions in history that criticized Israel from time to time, the nature of the coordination and the careful timing of this maneuver against a close ally make it seem particularly deliberate and hostile.
12. Joining with Venezuela & Malaysia to Condemn Israel
Whom you align with at the U.N. matters. I cannot think of another time in modern history when the U.S. endorsed a U.N. Security Council resolution co-sponsored by countries such as Venezuela, whose Maduro regime has thrown its opposition leaders in jail while causing mass starvation, and Malaysia, a hotbed of antisemitism.
Speaking of Venezuela, whose political prisoners we have championed, I have to note that while Secretary Kerry said repeatedly yesterday that the U.S. “cannot, in good conscience, do nothing, and say nothing” in regard to Israeli settlements, your Administration has said nothing every year when we have appealed to you to oppose the election of tyrannies such as Venezuela to the U.N. Human Rights Council. You said nothing to stop the Maduro regime being elected last year; you said nothing to stop Saudi Arabia, China, and Cuba from getting elected this year; and you said nothing to stop Russia getting elected in 2013. Your Administration’s policy of speaking out when good conscience requires it ought to be less selective.
Conclusion: The Obama Administration Joined the Jackals
In conclusion, I ask you to consider what one of your predecessors and role models, the late great Daniel Patrick Moynihan, might have thought about what the U.S. did on Friday.
You cited Moynihan during your confirmation hearing as an iconic American who “stood up for what was right.” And as an example of how to bring the U.N. to live up to its ideals, you have invoked the moral clarity that Moynihan eloquently expressed in his formidable speeches as U.S. ambassador to the U.N. in 1975.
We certainly know what Moynihan thought about the Carter Administration’s similar votes against Israel in 1979 and 1980. In his iconic 1981 Commentary essay, “Joining the Jackals,” Moynihan diagnosed the confused ideas which led U.S. delegates and officials to abandon Israel to what the Washington Post editorial board had identified as the pack at the U.N. which hounds Israel shamelessly. Carter, the Post had said, had decided to “join the jackals.”
I believe Moynihan’s observations of 36 years ago are no less apt to the resolution which you just allowed last week:
- “[F]or the United States to abstain on a Security Council resolution concerning Israel is the equivalent of acquiescing.”
- “As a direct result of American policy, the Security Council was allowed to degenerate to the condition of the General Assembly.”
- On a 1979 resolution which used the language “Arab territories… including Jerusalem,” Moynihan said, “Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. How could its capital be in the territory of others?”
- Invoking against Israel the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention on the Protection of Civilians in Time of War, one of a series of treaties designed to codify the behavior of Nazi Germany and make such behavior criminal under international law, “played perfectly into the Soviet propaganda position that ‘Zionism is present-day fascism.” Needless to say, Friday’s Resolution 2334 invokes the same convention and uses language meant to describe Israel’s building of homes in the West Bank, or Judea and Samaria as the U.N. 1947 partition plan called the areas, as war crimes.
Were Moynihan alive today, do you have any doubt that he would have said that on Friday the U.S.—after 36 years—once again joined the jackals?
What we don’t know yet is the degree to which the U.S., directly or indirectly, may have actually orchestrated the maneuver. If that proves to be the case—and based on my knowledge and experience of U.N. diplomacy, your Mission had to have played a key role in influencing the language, as well as the timing, of this infamous resolution—would not Moynihan say that the U.S. this time didn’t just join the jackals, but became leader of the pack?
Thank you for your consideration.
Hillel C. Neuer