This Christmas Eve, two billion Christians around the world are reveling in the promise of peace on earth and goodwill toward men. What the United States of America just did at the United Nations does nothing for either cause.
On Friday afternoon, the Obama administration abstained from a critical UN vote that demands an immediate halt to all Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. By abstaining from Security Council Resolution 2334 and allowing it to pass, the administration broke with eight years of good behavior at the UN and opened the gates for a flood of boycott efforts that will only ramp up tensions between Jews and Arabs in the land. As Charles Krauthammer said Friday on Fox News’ Special Report, quoting Daniel Patrick Moynihan, “Today the United States joined the jackals at the UN.”
The move has generated an outcry from Israelis of all political stripes. It has also generated outrage among the vast majority of Americans on both sides of the aisle who see our alliance with Israel as sacrosanct. President-elect Donald Trump has already threatened a serious response upon his inauguration, and his base will likely push for punitive action at the UN—and on the ground—that swings the pendulum in the other direction.
President Obama has turned his back on both Americans and Israelis. Allowing this vote to pass was undemocratic and unnecessarily provocative; it was also unhelpful. Resolution 2334 adds nothing in the quest for peace, and offers a mere pyrrhic victory for Palestinians. President Abbas lauded Friday as a day of victory, but victories in international forums do nothing to improve things on the ground. Palestinians will wake up tomorrow and find that their lives are still mired in the tyranny and corruption perpetuated by their leaders.
This is a bad development for peace.
It should be noted that the entire conversation about Jewish settlements rests atop the teetering framework of the two-state solution. While most world governments remain committed to the paradigm, it finds diminishing support among Jews and Arabs in the land. This begs a profound question about how to ensure peace and equal rights for both communities going forward, but one thing is for sure: settlements are a red herring that distracts from the real issues.
Even assuming that the two-state solution is the only possible outcome, the international rage against Jewish settlements rests on the assumption that Jews cannot, must not, live in a future Palestinian state. Yet over a million Arabs live in Israel, comprising about 20% of the population. To claim that Arabs can live in a Jewish state but Jews cannot live in an Arab state is textbook injustice. Any approach to solving the conflict must begin from the premise that Jews and Arabs have equal right to live in their historic homeland. But this right is precisely what is being denied by the UN declaration. Following this resolution, those Jews who live in East Jerusalem, per international law, will be living there illegally. Those streets on which they live is known as the Jewish Quarter, and has been for a thousand years. Having lived there for a millennium, the Jews were driven out by Arab armies in the War of Independence in 1948 and did not return until Israel liberated the quarter in the Six Day War. But now those Jews living there are outlaws.
As Iraqi and Syrian Christians languish in refugee camps, as Assad takes over the last neighborhoods of Aleppo, and as Iran continues its aggressive expansion around the region, the claim that a few hundred thousand Jews living on the wrong side of an imaginary line are the obstacle to Middle East peace is beyond absurd.
Considering how much human life hangs in the balance, it’s nothing short of immoral, and nothing less than a disgrace.
Robert Nicholson is the executive director of The Philos Project, a nonprofit organization that seeks to promote positive Christian engagement in the Middle East. He holds a BA in Hebrew Studies from Binghamton University, and a JD and MA (Middle Eastern History) from Syracuse University. A formerly enlisted Marine and a 2012- 2013 Tikvah Fellow, Robert lives in New York City with his wife and two children.
Photo Credit: President Barack Obama walks across the tarmac with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, March 20, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)