W.C. Fields famously said “Never Work with Animals or Children”. Around the time I left University when Victoria Beckham was a singer and rather than a fashion icon and matriarch and Blair was lauded and respected rather than…. you get the picture, I decided that I would stay out of debating Middle East matters and contrasting positions, in particular as pertains to Israel/Palestine.
Sure I knew that I supported Israel then as I do now. However on the particulars and merits of any given policy I would refrain from taking a view. I adopted this approach upon the realisation that Israel/Palestine may be described in two words – “Its Complicated”.
I don’t mean these words in the sense of some noughties teenage drama, or as a preamble to speech that “it is you and not me”. I simply mean that whilst naturally I have an opinion on given matters, I am mindful there is so much I don’t know and that those on the ground, whether they be in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem across the Israeli political spectrum or for that matter in Ramallah, have greater knowledge about these matters and the realities of living and operating in Middle East than I do living in London.
It is a policy of abstinence I have held for the best part of 20 years. It stood firm until the last ten days and the actions taken by the Obama Administration at the United Nations. Happy New Year from the outgoing White House and State Department – They pulled me back.
My background and expertise is in media and law. I am a lawyer and talent agent and my work involves lots of positioning and negotiation. It is seeking to optimise outcomes – akin to taking a particular hand and endeavouring to improve it and then play it. Whilst of course Middle East peace is, to say the least, exponentially more complex and difficult, the principles of any negotiation are broadly the same.
Imagine if in a negotiation the most significant point on which contrary views existed was at the outset pronounced as settled. Two things would ensue. Firstly, one party would have nothing to offer, as you cannot give that you do not have it. Secondly, the other party would have no incentive to compromise, because again why negotiate for something that has already been pronounced as yours? Rather than increasing the probability of a settled outcome, such pronouncement would have the opposite effect.
UN resolution 2334 is such a pronouncement. It does not aid negotiation or compromise. It kills it. In a region where killing is real rather than metaphoric, it increases the prospect of terror, military action and its repeat cycle. It serves to make war more rather than less likely.
The actions of the Obama Administration, taken during its lame duck period and against the clear wishes of the United States Congress and those of the incoming Administration inflames a region which has gasoline in abundance.
The resolution condemns “all measures aimed at altering the demographic composition, character and status of the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem.” It lists among those measures “the construction and expansion of settlements, transfer of Israeli settlers, confiscation of land, demolition of homes and displacement of Palestinian civilians, in violation of international humanitarian law and relevant resolutions.”
It calls on member states “to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967”. The language is absolutist. It makes no distinction between Jews preying at the Western Wall and living in an undivided Jerusalem and those living in disparate outposts deep in the West Bank. Nuance and shade are marked only by their absence.
It purports to nullify any Israeli rights across the Green Line, rather than allow for these to be subject to negotiation as between the parties alongside all other issues. Given the failure to date of Israelis and Palestinians to find mutual ground, it is unclear how anyone can genuinely believe that the prospect of reaching a settlement are enhanced by seeking to impose positions on matters fundamental to the conflict? Logically both sides are now more likely to draw to maximalist positions with all that entails.
During the eight years of the Obama Administration and since his landmark speech at Cairo University in 2009, over 400,000 have died in the Syrian civil war whilst an arc of instability has only worsened across the Middle East and spread into Turkey. Meanwhile an economically stagnate Europe, faced with issues on all flanks including significant exposure on homeland security has no shortage of turmoil. Then there is Russia and China with the multitude of issues and challenges they each bring into play.
By any objective measure Israel/Palestine is not the most pressing issue, or even near to being so, facing the region let alone the wider world. That it is Israel beyond all other countries that clearly animate the Obama Administration is an uncomfortable reality. Others may choose to describe this and its negative emphasis on Israel differently. Regardless as to motivation, the Administration’s decision to orchestrate fundamental change which is adverse to Israel and to the prospects for peace during its final month of office and thereby overturn 40 years of United States policy at the UN Security Council makes the merit of its action all the more questionable.