Settlement or not, the U.S. is still an ally of Israel

The Israeli press is seizing on the line in the Helene Cooper story that Mark discusses that suggests that the Obama Administration might consider “stepping back from America’s near-uniform support for Israel in the United Nations if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel does not agree to a settlement freeze.” It’s not hard to see why this “could get the attention of the Israeli public,” as a quoted administration official opines. But lest anyone get caught up in a tizzy of paranoia that the United States will be “abandoning” Israel to the wolves any time soon, it seems pretty obvious that Israel will remain a major U.S. ally, in the United Nations and out.

Policy-wise, the portrayal of a “threat” here is a ruse: exerting pressure for a settlement freeze will not result in the United States delegation allowing any anti-Semitic or Israel-bashing resolution to go through the UN. I cannot envision a scenario in which the United States will “condition support for Israel,” as Ha’aretz scarily forecasts, in any of the Security Council scenarios in which it would need to use a veto. The veto — or more often, the threat of the veto — is a step that is used to remove certain language, or when a country cannot convey any support for a resolution whatsoever. The United States will rightly use its veto whenever a resolution attempts to malign Israel or criticize its existence; this rarely if ever happens in the Security Council, but the position is not going to change.

The issue of halting settlement growth is crucial to achieving peace in Israel and Palestine. The Obama Administration has been refreshingly honest in emphasizing this point, but it is not going to throw Israel under the bus over it. Whatever pressure it exerts on Israel to stop building settlements will be related to the issue of settlement construction. If a juvenile attack on Israel’s existence is somehow raised in the Security Council, I’m sure the United States will not shy from wielding its veto. To imply otherwise is simply creating a controversy that doesn’t exist.

(image of an Israeli settlement in the West Bank, from flickr user Decode Jerusalem under a Creative Commons license)