President Obama speaking at the Ben-Gurion Airport in 2013.

Here’s one way to look at it: The United States was the only country in the fifteen-member U.N. Security Council that did not support a resolution passed last week criticizing Israel for continuing to expand illegal settlements in the occupied territories.

On the other hand, the Obama administration refused to veto the resolution—for which it is now drawing fire from both Republicans and Democrats. This opposition has come despite the resolution also calling on both the Israeli and Palestinian governments to prevent violence against civilians, condemn and combat terrorism, refrain from incitement, and comply with their obligations under international law.

The clauses addressing Israeli colonization in the occupied territories simply reconfirmed the longstanding consensus that such settlements are illegitimate. Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention—to which both Israel and the United States are signatories—bars any occupying power from transferring “parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” The United Nations, through such measures as Security Council Resolutions 446, 452, 465, and 471, has repeatedly recognized that the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, constitute territories under foreign belligerent occupation and that Israel’s settlements policy is in violation of this critical international treaty.

A landmark 2004 decision by the International Court of Justice also confirmed these Palestinian-populated areas’ occupied status and the illegality of the settlements. In that same ruling, the World Court enjoined the United States and other signatories of the Fourth Geneva Convention to “ensure compliance by Israel with international humanitarian law.”

Furthermore, the official State Department position, adopted in 1978 and never repealed, states that “the establishment of the civilian settlements in those territories is inconsistent with international law.”

But recent U.S. Presidents have been reluctant to acknowledge the illegality of these settlements. Instead, both Republican and Democratic administrations, recognizing that the settlements make establishing a viable contiguous Palestinian state impossible, have opposed expansion on the grounds that it is “an obstacle to peace.” “The U.S.-backed peace plans put forward by former CIA director George Tenet and the Mitchell Commission called for a freeze on Israeli settlement activities, as did the much-vaunted “Road Map for Peace,” which both the Bush and Obama administrations repeatedly stressed was necessary to resolve the conflict.

Still, the Obama administration’s decision to refrain from blocking the U.N. resolution is being lambasted as an act of appalling irresponsibility.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin, insisting that the resolution was somehow designed to “isolate and demonize Israel,” declared that

“Our unified Republican government will work to reverse the damage done by this administration, and rebuild our alliance with Israel.”

Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, claimed Obama has sought “to abandon our ally Israel.” And Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, accused Obama of carrying out a “systemic agenda to weaken Israel and strengthen its enemies.”

President-elect Donald Trump has signaled his displeasure with the resolution, promising the Israelis that “things will be different” after January 20. Indeed, Trump’s nominee for U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, and his pick for chief negotiator in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Jason Greenblatt, are both outspoken supporters of the Israeli settler movement.

Meanwhile, instead of backing up Obama, scores of Congressional Democrats have publicly sided with Trump in criticizing the Obama Administration.

Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York, the incoming Senate Democratic leader, called it “extremely frustrating, disappointing, and confounding” for the United States to have not vetoed the resolution. Representative Steny Hoyer, Democrat of Maryland, said he was “extremely disappointed by this action,” insisting it was “wrong and unjust” to criticize Israeli settlements and for “delegitimizing Jews’ ancient and historic connection to the land.”  

Other Democrats made similar statements. Representative Brad Sherman, Democrat of California, referred to it as “an unfortunate change in U.S. policy in support of Israel.” Representative Alcee Hastings, Democrat of Florida, called Obama’s action “reckless” and “completely unacceptable.”

These Democrats’ backing of Trump’s position over that of Obama is not simply a matter of giving into “pro-Israel” political pressure. Moderate pro-Israel groups like J Street and Americans for Peace Now joined a wide range of liberal groups in successfully lobbying the administration to not veto the resolution.

And it certainly does not reflect the views of a majority of Democrats. A recent poll shows that not only do a vast majority of Democrats believe that the United States should oppose Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, 60 percent believe the U.S. should support economic sanctions or tougher measures, which even the Obama administration has ruled out.  And more American Jews support the Obama administration’s recognition that Israeli settlements are bad for Israel that those who support them.

It appears, then, that the post-Obama Democratic Party will not only be willing to back Trump’s hardline positions against human rights and international law, they are also willing to ignore their constituents who support such principles. As a result, there will be little in the way of checks and balances to deter Trump from his dangerous foreign policy agenda.

Stephen Zunes is a professor of politics and coordinator of Middle Eastern studies at the University of San Francisco.



Now that the election is over, Obama can do things he wouldn't have done before. That's because it would have hurt Democrats in the election, contrary to Zunes's assertions. It's been clear for a long time that The Progressive favors leaning on Israel as a way toward peace, but maybe the professor can tell us how the Palestinians will be any more likely to negotiate for peace after the UN gives them the disputed territories.

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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