Prominent scholar fears 'lame duck' Obama will betray Israel by strong arming peace through United Nations

by Gregory Tomlin |

(REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)U.S. President Barack Obama meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in New York on Sept. 21, 2016.

WASHINGTON (Christian Examiner) – President Barack Obama may attempt to force Israel and the Palestinians to the negotiating table at the United Nations during his final days in office and, if he does, the results will be disastrous.

But that is exactly what advisors to the president are suggesting, sending "strong signals" that it intends to ignore Israeli desires for direct negotiations with the Palestinians and put the dispute before the world to resolve, writes Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz in a column for the Gatestone Institute.

Dershowitz is a staunch defender of Israel, as is the Institute headed by former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton.

Already on the table at the U.N. is a French proposal in the form of a resolution in the Security Council. It calls for borders based on Israel's 1967 lines with land swaps, security agreements on the "sovereignty of the Palestinian State and guaranteeing the security of Israel," a refugee resettlement program and Jerusalem as a dual capital for the two states.

Dershowitz writes that this resolution should be rejected, even though its guidelines seem "reasonable" and strikingly similar to those Israel and President Bill Clinton offered Palestinian leaders in 2000-2001, as well as those offered to the Palestinians by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in 2008.

It would be wrong – and undemocratic – for Obama to unilaterally reverse decades of U.S. foreign policy during the lame duck period. After all, in 2011 his administration vetoed an almost identical Palestinian proposal that called for Israel to 'immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem.' Similarly, until now, Obama has repeatedly pressured the French and other European nations not to put forward any proposal related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, on the grounds that such initiatives discourage bilateral negotiations.
- Alan Dershowitz

The Palestinians rejected both. There is no indication the U.N. would do any better, Dershowitz writes.

"Recent attempts by the U.N. to intervene in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have produced unmitigated disasters. The so-called Goldstone Report, which sought to investigate allegations of war crimes committed during the 2009 Israeli intervention in Gaza, was so blatantly biased against Israel that Richard Goldstone himself had to retract some of its key findings in 2011," Dershowitz claims.

"Since then, the U.N. has done nothing to reassure Israel that it is capable of offering an unbiased forum for negotiations. In the past year alone, the U.N. has singled out Israel for special criticism on issues like health rights, and most laughably, women's rights, while failing even to mention regimes whose record on these issues is truly abominable.

Last year alone, at least twenty separate resolutions were adopted by the U.N. General Assembly, which singled out Israel for special criticism. Most recently UNESCO attempted to erase millennia of Jewish history with regard to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. In light of such behavior, the U.S. should not trust that Israel would receive a fair hearing at any U.N. sponsored peace conference."

The only way forward, Dershowitz writes, is allowing the Israelis and the Palestinians to conduct the peace negotiations themselves with each making "mutual sacrifices" and "painful compromises." This is a fact Israel already recognizes, he contends.

"As Netanyahu said in his most recent speech to the U.N. General Assembly, 'The road to peace runs through Jerusalem and Ramallah, not through New York.'"

The Palestinians, however, do not feel the same way and view the U.N. as the leverage needed to push Israel into giving up land it won during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.

That the Palestinians can win at the U.N. is proven. They pushed for recognition of Palestinian statehood at the U.N. for years. In 2012, "Palestine" was granted non-member observer status at the assembly. Only nine nations, including the U.S., voted against the move.

The one-sided position of the U.N. would make any future negotiations unrealistic, Dershowitz writes.

"It is for these and other reasons that American policy has long been to veto or otherwise derail U.N. attempts to interfere with the Israeli-Palestinian peace process even when it is stalled. As President Obama said in 2013:

'We seek an independent, viable and contiguous Palestinian state as the homeland of the Palestinian people. The only way to achieve that goal is through direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians themselves.'"

Dershowitz also points to past statements from Democrat presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump that support bilateral negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

Still, the U.S. approach may be about to change, he writes.

According to Dershowitz, several high-level advisors to the president have encouraged him to support – or at least not veto on the Security Council – the French plan for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. They have also suggested he should side with the U.N. push to declare Israeli settlements illegal (the president has already expressed "concern" about them).

"It would be wrong – and undemocratic – for Obama to unilaterally reverse decades of U.S. foreign policy during the lame duck period. After all, in 2011 his administration vetoed an almost identical Palestinian proposal that called for Israel to 'immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem.' Similarly, until now, Obama has repeatedly pressured the French and other European nations not to put forward any proposal related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, on the grounds that such initiatives discourage bilateral negotiations. This is surely the view of the majority of the Senate, which has its own constitutional authority to participate in foreign policy decisions. In fact, 88 senators signed an open letter to Obama in which they called on the President to veto any Security Council resolutions regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," Dershowitz writes.

That letter refers to the U.S. as the sole, trusted mediator between the two parties and argues that placing the peace process before the U.N. will only lead to chaos.

"The only way to resolve the conflicts between the two is through direct negotiations that lead to a sustainable two-state solution with a future state of Palestine living in peace and security with Israel. This outcome would provide Israel with greater security and strengthen regional stability. We remain optimistic that, under the right circumstances, Israelis and Palestinians can successfully resume productive negotiations toward this goal," the letter said.

Our next president will undoubtedly have to wade into the Israeli-Palestinian peace process again. The new administration – with the agreement of the Senate – should have full latitude to do what it deems most appropriate. It should not be stuck with parameters bequeathed to it by a President desperate to secure a short-term foreign policy 'victory' that in the long term will make a resolution of the conflict more difficult to achieve.
- Alan Dershowitz

Dershowitz said that, should the president act by punting the negotiations to the U.N., he will be tying the hands of his successor.

"The period between the election and the inauguration is the only time a president can act without the checks and balances of American democracy," he writes.

"Obama must realize that no lasting peace can be achieved in the remaining months of his presidency: there are a multitude of complex and contentious issues – most notably the status of Jerusalem, the rights of so-called Palestinian refugees, and the situation in Gaza – that must be thoroughly addressed in order to achieve a lasting peace. Our next president will undoubtedly have to wade into the Israeli-Palestinian peace process again. The new administration – with the agreement of the Senate – should have full latitude to do what it deems most appropriate. It should not be stuck with parameters bequeathed to it by a President desperate to secure a short-term foreign policy 'victory' that in the long term will make a resolution of the conflict more difficult to achieve," Dershowitz writes.