U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice announced to the UN’s Arab group that she will support their statement condemning Israel for its settlement construction after failing to convince the group to support her language. Rice previously offered the Arab group a plethora of U.S. government compromises in exchange for different language – language they rejected outright. The Arab group immediately responded to her acquiescence by announcing that they will turn the statement she is supporting into a legally binding and more serious UN resolution to be voted on soon. Rice’s failed UN engagement strategy highlights the dangerous slippery slope of bringing delicate foreign policy crises to the 15 member Security Council. Her actions also perilously miss the message of Egypt’s protesters who are demanding economic reform from their dormant and manipulative leaders.
The incentives Rice offered the Arab Ambassadors at the UN included a harsh condemnation of the Israeli settlements in a future statement from the mid-east Quartet negotiators (comprising of the U.S., UN, Russia and the EU) and an official UN organized tour of the Middle East. But as foreign policy experts hail the region’s recent democracy movement and its’ “Berlin Wall moment”, Rice is at the UN agreeing to condemn the Middle East’s strongest democratic government.
Over the last several days Rice has been negotiating with Lebanon, the UN Security Council’s Arab Group representative, to find settlement language acceptable to both sides. But after offering her compromises, Rice agreed to language saying the U.S. “does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity” and that the settlements are “a serious obstacle to the peace process.” The agreement sharply diverges from previous U.S. government statements insisting that the Israelis and the Palestinians negotiate directly to decide for themselves what issues are obstacles to peace. Shouldn’t we spend what little political capital we have left pressuring both sides to sit down face to face?
Congressman Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) called Rice’s compromise “too clever by half”. Weiner said, “Instead of doing the correct and principled thing and vetoing an inappropriate and wrong resolution, they now have opened the door to more and more anti-Israeli efforts coming to the floor of the U.N.”
Arab experts have long believed that Americans need to re-think their relationship with Israel in order to understand the Arab-Israeli conflict. But with the youth revolution moving quickly throughout the Middle East, it is the traditional Arabists who are scrambling to understand the largely peaceful and economically driven coups on non-democratic regimes. Arab leaders have consistently framed the Palestinian-Israeli issue as an Arab-Israeli issue. They have spent considerable capital trying to convince their publics and Americans that Israeli settlements and Palestinian border issues are the highest priority issues for Arab youth throughout the region.
But the recent tumult in Tunisia and Egypt have proven that Arab youth, like their counterparts in America and elsewhere, want economic freedom and good paying jobs first and foremost. Arabs want and deserve economic and political freedom. And the silent majority must have a stronger voice than the loud radicals trying to take advantage of the current chaos. Washington must stand solidly with the strongest democracy in the region, Israel, and make clear that economic freedom, individual human rights and security are our priority goals.
To understand why her UN engagement strategy was destined to fail, Susan Rice only needs to watch the news to grasp the universality of the impassioned people pleading for greater freedom in the streets of Tunisia, Egypt, Iran, Bahrain and even Palestine. Maybe then she wouldn’t fall for the canard we consistently hear at the UN that if we could only settle the Israeli problem then all would be right in the region. America should be standing with the Arab youth demanding an end to the status quo. Rice’s actions play into the hands of the self-interested leadership and their UN based support system hoping it all stays the same. If the Arab group brings forward their promised resolution, the U.S. will have to decide if it will veto the resolution or not. The predicament the U.S. finds itself in is much of Rice’s own making.