Obama Abstains on a UN Resolution Condemning Israel... Trump Lashes Back:
Not a “Sign of Hope,” a Preview of Incoming Horrors
December 24, 2016 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Yesterday, the United States abstained from voting on, and did not veto, a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel. That’s news. For 45 years, the United States has vetoed almost every UN resolution criticizing Israel. This vote (and the U.S. not vetoing it) was greeted with applause by a packed UN Security Council chamber. It reflects serious differences between the Obama administration and Israel, and between what has been Obama’s policy and what Donald Trump threatens to do. And it was seen by some as a hopeful sign that the Obama administration was erecting barriers to what Trump has vowed to do—give uncritical and unlimited support to every crime Israel commits against the Palestinian people. In response, Trump lashed out with the ominous tweet: “As to the U.N., things will be different after Jan. 20th.”
These events are not a basis for hope. They are not an indication that the U.S. and the UN will now rein in some of Israel’s most egregious crimes against the Palestinian people. They do not prevent, but portend, terrible giant leaps backward that a Trump regime would bring to an already intolerable situation in the Middle East and the world.
Israel’s Settlements and the Role of the U.S.
Palestinian protesters confront Israeli soldiers during a demonstration against the construction of Jewish settlements in the Jordan Valley, in the West Bank, November 17, 2016. (Photo: AP)
Amona, an unauthorized Israeli outpost settlement in the West Bank, is seen east of the Palestinian town of Ramallah. (Photo: AP)
The Security Council resolution condemns Israel for building “settlements” in areas of Palestine that the UN recognizes as territory that should be administered by Palestinians. Those settlements are highly militarized encampments of heavily armed Israeli settlers engaged in expanding the terrorist ethnic cleansing of sections of Palestine.
The settlements violate international law. The Fourth Geneva Convention—which has been adopted by nearly every country on Earth—prohibits an occupying power from transferring its citizens into the territory it occupies and from transferring or displacing the population of an occupied territory within or outside the territory (See “Occupation Inc.” from Human Rights Watch.)
The wording of the UN resolution condemns “all measures aimed at altering the demographic composition, character and status of the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, including, inter alia [among others], 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.” And it expresses “grave concern that continuing Israeli settlement activities are dangerously imperiling the viability of the two-State solution based on the 1967 lines.”1
Every other country represented on the UN Security Council voted for the resolution. Because the U.S. abstained (didn’t vote), and didn’t veto the resolution, it passed.
Trump’s Thuggish Intervention—Even Before He Is Supposed to Take Office
Before the vote, Donald Trump attacked the decision of the Obama administration on Facebook and Twitter and vowed to reverse it. And in a stunning move, Trump called Egypt’s ruler, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, and “convinced” him to withdraw the resolution (Egypt was the resolution’s original sponsor). There is no official record of what kind of “offer he can’t refuse” was made in this phone call, but immediately afterward, according to official statements from Sisi’s office, “The presidents [note: presidents plural—even though Barack Obama is the currently elected president of the United States!] agreed on the importance of affording the new US administration the full chance to deal with all dimensions of the Palestinian case...” (“Egypt: Trump convinced Sisi to withdraw UN resolution,” Al Jazeera, December 23, 2016)
Take note: Here you had Trump, before he is even in power, pushing aside supposed foundational rules that have governed how things work in the U.S. (like you don’t get to be president until your predecessor’s term is up!). Consider this thuggish move one more flashing red-light warning sign of how little respect a Trump regime would have for rule of law when he is in power. And if Trump has this little respect for the supposed safeguards of the rule of law, as well as what have been standing precedents of policy, when it pertains to his fellow members of the ruling class, what will he care when these are supposed to protect the masses from the state power he will soon be wielding?
After Trump’s phone call to Sisi, other countries assumed sponsorship of the resolution, and it passed.
What’s Behind the Non-Veto?
As an expression of U.S. financial, military, and diplomatic backing for Israel, the U.S. has vetoed hundreds of UN resolutions criticizing or condemning Israel.2 Today’s departure from that policy does reflect increasing strains in the “special relationship” as both sides refer to U.S. backing for Israel. Even more specifically, it reflects real concerns by the Obama administration that Trump is going to throw out the “rule book” when it comes to Israel in a way that, as they see it, U.S. interests around the world will be greatly endangered.
Samantha Power, U.S. representative to the UN, began her statement on the resolution with a quote: “[T]he immediate adoption of a settlement freeze by Israel, more than any other action, could create the confidence needed for wider participation in [peace] talks. Further settlement activity is in no way necessary for the security of Israel and only diminishes the confidence of the Arabs that a final outcome can be freely and fairly negotiated.” She then attributed the quote to its author, Ronald Reagan. She began her speech this way to make the point, especially to those in the U.S. ruling class who were lashing out at Obama, that formal opposition to Israeli settlements has always been a principle of U.S. foreign policy. At the same time, she presented a long defense of Israel, and defended the U.S. decision to abstain, rather than vote for the resolution.
As the U.S. has worked to cobble together global coalitions, and patch together motley collections of tyrants to serve its interests in the Middle East and beyond, Israel’s ongoing and escalating crimes against the Palestinians have presented real problems. Including that Israel’s egregious crimes have created real problems for U.S. rulers in their efforts to present themselves as champions of freedom and democracy around the world.
At the same time, the rulers of the U.S. are stuck with and sticking by Israel as a unique enforcer and base for the U.S. empire. There is no regime in the Middle East, other than Israel, with anything close to the economic and military power, and (so far) reliable base of support among its own population.
These real contradictions reached unprecedented levels of tension during the Obama administration. But it was always the purpose of Obama’s policies to strengthen Israel, and its relationship with the U.S. He said this over and over, and backed it up. In 2014, Obama increased U.S. military aid to Israel at the very time it was bombing hospitals, UN schools, and residential districts in the Gaza-strip region of Palestine, murdering 2,250 people, most of whom were civilians, including more than 500 children.
Israel’s Special Place in the Trumpite Holy War on Islam
The Trumpites have a very different conception of how to defend and expand the U.S. empire, and a very different solution to the current state of tension between the U.S. and Israel. They see what is going on in the world as a continuation of a 500-year conflict between Christianity and Islam. Their vision is for global holy war of “Judeo-Christian civilization” against Islam and anyone else who gets in their way.
In a presentation that Trump’s chief strategist and senior counselor, Steve Bannon, gave two years ago at a conference held inside the Vatican, Bannon quite clearly laid out a “holy war” perspective of “Judeo-Christian capitalism” versus Islam. He traces this back to religious wars of the past and in the process accuses “secularism” of sapping the “strength” of the West. To get more of a sense of this, read the following question/answer from Bannon’s presentation:
Questioner: One of my questions has to do with how the West should be responding to radical Islam. How, specifically, should we as the West respond to Jihadism without losing our own soul? Because we can win the war and lose ourselves at the same time. How should the West respond to radical Islam and not lose itself in the process?
Bannon: From a perspective—this may be a little more militant than others. I think definitely you’re going to need an aspect that is [unintelligible]. I believe you should take a very, very, very aggressive stance against radical Islam. And I realize there are other aspects that are not as militant and not as aggressive and that’s fine.
If you look back at the long history of the Judeo-Christian West struggle against Islam [editor’s note: Islam full stop, not “radical Islam”], I believe that our forefathers kept their stance, and I think they did the right thing. I think they kept it out of the world, whether it was at Vienna, or Tours, or other places... It bequeathed to us the great institution that is the church of the West.
And I would ask everybody in the audience today, because you really are the movers and drivers and shakers and thought leaders in the Catholic Church today, is to think, when people 500 years from now are going to think about today, think about the actions you’ve taken—and I believe everyone associated with the church and associated with the Judeo-Christian West that believes in the underpinnings of that and believes in the precepts of that and want to see that bequeathed to other generations down the road as it was bequeathed to us, particularly as you’re in a city like Rome, and in a place like the Vatican, see what’s been bequeathed to us—ask yourself, 500 years from today, what are they going to say about me? What are they going to say about what I did at the beginning stages of this crisis?
Because it is a crisis, and it’s not going away. You don’t have to take my word for it. All you have to do is read the news every day, see what’s coming up, see what they’re putting on Twitter, what they’re putting on Facebook, see what’s on CNN, what’s on BBC. See what’s happening, and you will see we’re in a war of immense proportions. It’s very easy to play to our baser instincts, and we can’t do that. But our forefathers didn’t do it either. And they were able to stave this off, and they were able to defeat it, and they were able to bequeath to us a church and a civilization that really is the flower of mankind, so I think it’s incumbent on all of us to do what I call a gut check, to really think about what our role is in this battle that’s before us.
(“This Is How Steve Bannon Sees The Entire World,” BuzzFeed, November 15, 2016)
Special issue of Revolution: The Case of Israel—Bastion of Enlightenment or Enforcer for Imperialism?
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(For more analysis of how this “holy war” madness fits into the overall package of the Trump-Pence regime, see “As Democrats Still Call for ‘Working With’ Trump... Trump Goes Further with Fascist Team and Fascist Threats.”)
That vision demands a much closer U.S.-Israel relationship. That is the meaning of Trump’s repeated insistence that there will be “no daylight” between the U.S. and Israel under his rule.
Obama’s mix of criticism of Israel, combined with unwavering support, has infuriated not just the Trumpites but other major, powerful sections of the ruling class (including significant players in both the Republican and Democratic parties). His ruling class critics have demanded a much closer and less critical relationship between the U.S. and Israel. And Obama’s approach has infuriated the fanatical Zionists who dominate Israeli society, who disdain almost any acknowledgement of the Palestinian people as human beings.
In the rabid Zionists in power in Israel, the Trumpites find perfect military and ideological partners in a holy war of “Judeo-Christian civilization” against Islam (and anyone else who gets in their way).3
The Trumpites, or at least the dominant core of them, obliterate the real, and important, distinction between fundamentalist Islamic Jihad on the one hand and Islam on the other. And if you follow the logic-of-the-logic of many of their claims and threats, this DOES add up to a holy war against Islam (and all Muslims). Add to this equation Trump’s stance of: If we have nukes, why can’t we use them, and the picture assumes genocidal dimensions.4
The Trumpites demand a totally “free hand” for Israel in crushing the Palestinians, and—with its own substantial nuclear arsenal—running amok in the region without the constraints of U.S. diplomatic intervention. In light of how wildly Israel has lashed out at its “neighbors,” with invasions, bombing, and massacres, up to now... the destabilizing and—again—even genocidal implications of “taking the gloves off” Israel under a Trump regime are almost unimaginable.
In that light, the unusual event of Obama having the U.S. ambassador to the UN stand aside and allow a condemnation of Israeli settlements doesn’t mitigate, but highlights, what an extreme departure the Trump regime would be in how the U.S. relates to Israel, to the Palestinians, and to the world. This is what Trump was foreshadowing when he ominously tweeted, after the vote, “As to the UN, things will be different after Jan. 20th.”
The policy of U.S. backing for Israel’s crimes—coupled with restrained objections—has been in effect for nearly 50 years. It has always meant a living hell for the Palestinians. And more and more, the U.S.-Israel partnership has been a factor in fueling all kinds of reactionary violence in the Middle East.
But this status quo would be undone in a much worse way should Trump become president. A Trump regime would uncork a seismic, unpredictable eruption of reactionary violent conflict in the Middle East and beyond, in ways that are hard to imagine, with a substantially greater risk of nuclear war.
It must be stopped before it starts.
1 The “two-state solution” seeks to legitimize the ethnic cleansing of Palestine by Zionist settlers with the backing of Western imperialism, and confine the Palestinian people to small, isolated areas within their homeland, subject to Israeli military encirclement and terror. This “two-state solution” has been the official position of the UN and the U.S. government more or less since the establishment of Israel. It is not a just solution to the violent dispossession of the Palestinian people. But even this pretense of providing for the rights and humanity of the Palestinian people has been increasingly pushed off the table by the rulers of Israel and the U.S. back
2 Among UN resolutions vetoed by the U.S.: many condemning Israel for invading its neighbors; many criticizing the conditions under which the Palestinians live under Israeli occupation; at least one condemning Israel for supplying apartheid South Africa with nuclear weapons technology; one protesting Israel’s closing of Palestinian universities; one condemning the Israeli parliament for formally declaring intent to assassinate the late Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat; several protesting massacres in Gaza; and hundreds of other resolutions even mildly critical of Israel. back
3 In the symbiotic relationship between the Trumpites and the rulers of Israel, the prominent role of neo-Nazis and anti-Semites in networks of core Trump supporters is not an issue—for either side. Richard Spencer, the neo-Nazi who has been promoted by Trump’s closest advisor Steve Bannon, has upheld Israel’s ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians as a model for the U.S. in relation to immigrants, Black people, and others who don’t fit into the fascist vision of a “white America.” (See “‘Alt Right’ Leader Ties White Supremacy to Zionism—Leaves Rabbi Speechless,” Forward, December 7, 2016.) And the Zionist rulers of Israel have a long history of collusion and active collaboration with anti-Semitic fascists, including negotiating with Hitler, seeking his backing for a “Jewish homeland” outside of Europe; and—after the establishment of Israel—providing military and intelligence aid to the anti-Semitic fascist junta that ruled Argentina in the 1980s (as documented, for example, in Jacobo Timerman’s book, Prisoner without a Name, Cell without a Number). back
4 In August, MSNBC reported: “Several months ago, a foreign policy expert on the international level went to advise Donald Trump. And three times [Trump] asked about the use of nuclear weapons. Three times he asked at one point if we had them why can’t we use them.” (“Trump asks why US can’t use nukes”: MSNBC, August 3, 2016) back
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