Although last Friday’s United Nations Security Council meeting on Israel’s settlement policy did not end in a vote and had no binding importance, it did raise two important questions for Israelis.
The American representative at the meeting, Deputy Ambassador David Pressman, said that the US administration was “deeply concerned” at the continued construction of settlements which are “corrosive to peace” and “creates a one-state reality on the ground”.
This was reflective of the rhetoric coming from Washington in past months, but did it mean that the Obama administration is planning a last “grand gesture” on the Palestinian issue before a new president is sworn in on January 20?
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fears that to be the case — and Barack Obama has not given him a clear indication either way.
“It doesn’t seem as if the administration has decided yet,” said one diplomat in Jerusalem. “It won’t do anything before the election, because it causes trouble for Hillary Clinton. If she wins, they probably won’t want to do anything that will bind her either. If Trump wins, however, it’s a whole new ball game.”
Whatever the outcome of the election, it is quite likely that in its last two months, the administration will have far more pressing issues to deal with than yet another futile attempt at pushing the stuck cart of the diplomatic process out of the mud.
This raises another dilemma for the Israeli political left.
Is there any real prospect of meaningful international intervention to try to solve the impasse with the Palestinians, now that the Obama administration is on its way out? The French initiative to convene an international conference in Paris by the end of the year seems to have fizzled out and President Francois Hollande is distracted with his own election in a few months’ time. Similar Egyptian and Russian initiatives do not look like more than token gestures.
There is a growing debate within the Israeli “peace camp”. The question being asked is whether the left’s attempts to encourage the world to pressure the Israeli government to end the occupation in the West Bank can amount to anything when the world is so obviously distracted by multiple crises elsewhere.
Israeli human-rights group B’tselem took part in the UN Security Council meeting, while Peace Now declined an invitation (though its American sister-organisation did take part).
B’tselem received major criticism from the Israeli government and much of the Israeli media for participating. Its executive director Hagai El-Ad said that only foreign pressure could change Israeli policy.
However, many on the Israeli left are waking up to the reality that in the foreseeable future, change can only be achieved by convincing the Israeli public.