Foreign Policy Luminaries Urge Obama to Support UNSC Settlements Resolution

As the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) moves to consider a resolution condemning continued Israeli settlement activity in the Palestinian occupied territories, a group of prominent foreign policy analysts issued a letter today urging the Obama administration to support the resolution. While such exhortations are familiar when coming from the human rights community, what makes today’s letter notable is both the range and prominence of its signatories. They include a former Reagan administration Secretary of Defense (Frank Carlucci), two former ambassadors to Israel (Thomas Pickering and Ned Walker), prominent members of the American Jewish community (Peter Beinart, Rabbi Tirzah Firestone), and too many prominent members of the diplomatic and intelligence communities to count (James Dobbins and Paul Pillar being two examples). The letter suggests that the Netanyahu government’s intransigence over settlements has further alienated members of the US foreign policy community who may already have been dubious about Israel’s value as a strategic asset. The sentiment seems to be growing that the US’s inability to get its client to comply with even minimal requests has become a humiliating black eye that is hampering its broader foreign policy goals across the board.

Many critics of the current US-Israel relationship have called for a cutoff of the roughly $3 billion in military aid that the US provides Israel every year. Such a possibility is not unforeseeable in the future, but we’re still a long way away from the point where aid cutoff would be on the table as a real political possibility. Using US diplomatic leverage at the UN, however, is a much smaller and more feasible step that the US can take to demonstrate its displeasure. Voting for the settlements resolution — or even abstaining — has the additional virtue of being in line with the stated policies of every American administration of the last several decades.

The full letter is below the jump.

Letter to the President of the United States

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.

Respectfully yours,

Amjad Atallah, Co-Director, Middle East Task Force, New America Foundation

Bruce Ackerman, Sterling Professor of Law and Political Science, Yale University

Rabbi Leonard I. Beerman, Leo Baeck Temple, Los Angeles

Peter Beinart, Associate Professor of Journalism and Political Science, the City University of New York; Schwartz Senior Fellow, New America Foundation

Landrum Bolling, Senior Advisor, Mercy Corps

Hon. Everett Ellis Briggs, former US Ambassador, Portugal, Honduras, Panama; former special advisor to President George H.W. Bush, National Security Council; former President, Americas Society and Council of the Americas

Hon. Frank Carlucci, former US Secretary of Defense

Hon. Wendy Chamberlin, President, Middle East Institute; former US Ambassador, Pakistan

Steven Clemons, Founder and Senior Fellow, American Strategy Program, New America Foundation; publisher, The Washington Note

Hon. Walter L. Cutler, former US Ambassador, Saudi Arabia

Hon. John Gunther Dean, former US Ambassador, Cambodia, Lebanon, Thailand, India

Michael C. Desch, Professor of Political Science, University of Notre Dame; Contributing Editor, The American Conservative

Hon. James Dobbins, former Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs

Hon. Joseph Duffey, former Director, US Information Agency

Hon. Wes Egan, former US Ambassador, Jordan

Hon. Nancy H. Ely-Raphel, former US Ambassador, Slovenia; former Counselor on International Law, Department of State

Dr. John L. Esposito, Professor of International Affairs and Islamic Studies, School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University

Rabbi Tirzah Firestone, Board of Directors, Rabbis for Human Rights – North America

Hon. Chas W. Freeman, Jr, former US Ambassador, Saudi Arabia; former President, Middle East Policy Council

Hon. Edward W. Gnehm, Jr., Professor of Gulf and Arabian Peninsula Affairs, George Washington University; former US Ambassador, Jordan, Kuwait

Hon. William C. Harrop, former US Ambassador, Israel, Guinea, Kenya, Seychelles, Zaire

Hon. Carla Hills, former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and former US Trade Representative

Hon. Roderick M. Hills, former Chairman, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission

Hon. H. Allen Holmes, former Assistant Secretary of State, European Affairs; former Assistant Secretary, Political-Military Affairs; former US Ambassador, Portugal

Hon. Arthur Hughes, former Deputy Chief of Mission, Israel; former Deputy Assistant Secretary, Department of Defense; former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Near Eastern Affairs

Robert Jervis, Professor of International Affairs, Columbia University; former President, American Political Science Association

Christian A. Johnson, Professor, Hamilton College

Michael Kahn, Professor Emeritus of Psychology, University of California, Santa Cruz

Hani Masri, Publisher, The Palestine Note

Hon. David Mack, Vice President, Middle East Institute; former US Ambassador, UAE; former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Near Eastern Affairs

Hon. Richard Murphy, former Assistant Secretary of State, Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs; former US Ambassador, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Mauritania

William Nitze, former Assistant Administrator for International Activities, Environmental Protection Agency; Trustee, the Aspen Institute

Hon. Robert Pastor, former Senior Director, National Security Council; Professor of International Relations, American University

Hon. Thomas Pickering, former Undersecretary of State, Political Affairs; former US Ambassador, Russia, India, Israel, El Salvador, Nigeria, Jordan, United Nations

Paul Pillar, former National Intelligence Officer, Near Eastern Affairs; Director of Graduate Studies, Security Studies program, Georgetown University

Hon. Anthony Quainton, former US Ambassador to Kuwait and Peru; former Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security; former Ambassador-at-Large and Coordinator for Counter Terrorism, State Department

William B. Quandt, Professor, Middle East history, University of Virginia; former National Security Council Middle East Assistant, President Carter

George R. Salem, former Solicitor of Labor; Chairman, Arab American Institute

Hon. Roscoe Suddarth, former US Ambassador, Jordan; former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs

Andrew Sullivan, Senior Editor, The Atlantic; Editor and Publisher, The Daily Dish

Hon. Nicholas Veliotes, former Assistant Secretary of State, Near East and South Asian affairs; former U.S. Ambassador to Egypt and Jordan; former Deputy Chief of Mission to Israel

Hon. Edward S. Walker, Jr., former US Ambassador, Israel, Egypt, UAE; former Assistant Secretary of State, Near Eastern Affairs

Hon. Allen Wendt, former US Ambassador, Slovenia; former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, International Energy and Resources Policy

Hon. Philip Wilcox, President, Foundation for Middle East Peace; former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Middle Eastern Affairs; former Ambassador-at-Large and Coordinator for Counter Terrorism, State Department

Col. Lawrence Wilkerson (USA, ret), former Chief of Staff, Department of State; Visiting Professor, College of William & Mary

James Zogby, President, Arab American Institute

Daniel Luban

Daniel Luban is a postdoctoral associate at Yale University. He holds a PhD in politics from the University of Chicago and was formerly a correspondent in the Washington bureau of Inter Press Service.


One Comment

  1. It’s a great letter and the signatories are all the right people, yet somehow I don’t see the U.S. voting yes or abstaining. Anyone care to give odds?

    Similarly, a cutoff of U.S. aid to Israel would please almost as much as my getting a date with Jessica Biel. The chances of it happening are about the same as my chances of going on that date . . .

    The rising chorus of A-list voices may some day reach a pitch that even the U.S. Congress can’t ignore. But somehow the Neocon-Christian Zionist alliance keeps getting its way, and public opinion generally seems apathetic on the issue. I say again that the Palestinians would be in a much better position today had they adopted the strategy of Gandhi and MLK. A campaign of nonviolence, carried out consistently and with moral fervor, probably would have melted even the iceberg of U.S. opinion by now.

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