Saturday, February 19, 2011

Rice, Ceren, Basman: U.S. Security Council Veto Condemning Israel

Rice: February 18, 2011:

Thank you, Madame President.

The United States has been deeply committed to pursuing a comprehensive and lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians. In that context, we have been focused on taking steps that advance the goal of two states living side by side in peace and security, rather than complicating it. That includes a commitment to work in good faith with all parties to underscore our opposition to continued settlements.

Our opposition to the resolution before this Council today should therefore not be misunderstood to mean we support settlement activity. On the contrary, we reject in the strongest terms the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity. For more than four decades, Israeli settlement activity in territories occupied in 1967 has undermined Israel’s security and corroded hopes for peace and stability in the region. Continued settlement activity violates Israel’s international commitments, devastates trust between the parties, and threatens the prospects for peace.

The United States and our fellow Council members are also in full agreement about the urgent need to resolve the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, based on the two-state solution and an agreement that establishes a viable, independent, and contiguous state of Palestine, once and for all. We have invested a tremendous amount of effort and resources in pursuit of this shared goal, and we will continue to do so.

But the only way to reach that common goal is through direct negotiations between the parties, with the active and sustained support of the United States and the international community.
It is the Israelis’ and Palestinians’ conflict, and even the best-intentioned outsiders cannot resolve it for them. Therefore every potential action must be measured against one overriding standard: will it move the parties closer to negotiations and an agreement? Unfortunately, this draft resolution risks hardening the positions of both sides. It could encourage the parties to stay out of negotiations and, if and when they did resume, to return to the Security Council whenever they reach an impasse.

Madame President, in recent years, no outside country has invested more than the United States of America in the effort to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace.

In recent days, we offered a constructive alternative course forward that we believe would have allowed the Council to act unanimously to support the pursuit of peace. We regret that this effort was not successful and thus is no longer viable.

The great impetus for democracy and reform in the region makes it even more urgent to settle this bitter and tragic conflict in the context of a region moving towards greater peace and respect for human rights. But there simply are no shortcuts.

We hope that those who share our hopes for peace between a secure and sovereign Israel and Palestine will join us in redoubling our common efforts to encourage and support the resumption of direct negotiations.

While we agree with our fellow Council members — and indeed, with the wider world — about the folly and illegitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity, we think it unwise for this Council to attempt to resolve the core issues that divide Israelis and Palestinians. We therefore regrettably have opposed this draft resolution.

Thank you, Madame President.

Omri Ceren: 2/18/11 Contentions

What was Susan Rice trying to accomplish?

Why didn’t Susan Rice just get up and say, “I’m being forced to veto this condemnation of Israel because the Israel Lobby controls D.C., I’m bitterly resentful about it, and Stephen Walt will soon be explaining why”? It would have been less damaging than the spectacle we just witnessed, wherein, as
John pointed out, the American ambassador to the United Nations telegraphed — through words, body language, and her anti-Israel tantrum — that she didn’t support the policy she was implementing on behalf of the president.

No one’s under any illusions that Rice prefers basking in the agapic embrace of Turtle Bay to defending the only stable ally America currently has in the Middle East. But did she really need to make it so obvious? The president of the United States might be tarnishing the solemnity of his office by
stirring up domestic unrest against his political opponents, but can’t we at least try not to look like a banana republic in front of actual banana republics?

Of course, this is all under the assumption that Rice really was acting out against the White House’s decision. If the administration actually instructed her to say one thing and do another on the world’s largest diplomatic stage, then we’ve got bigger problems.

What exactly was this public display of petulance supposed to accomplish? Having disappointed the Arab world by vetoing the proposal, was the point also to disappoint the Israelis by joining the UN lynch mob in words but not deeds? This did actual damage to U.S. credibility and influence.

It damaged them in a direct way by ensuring that we’d alienate everybody today, and it damaged them in a potentially more significant way by creating a chasm between our words and our actions. It’s almost as if Rice spent the week telling everyone that a veto wouldn’t advance U.S. interests in any way, and then set out to make sure that’s exactly what happened. Did anyone even vet this internationalist pablum?

And no, of course it’s not United States policy to view construction within the settlement blocs as “illegitimate.” At least it wasn’t once the Bush letters came out, which
unambiguously recognized the permanence of major Israeli settlements. But since Rice’s speech didn’t really reflect the explicit policy choices of this government, presumably she didn’t feel bound by the commitments of previous governments either.

So a banana republic it is.


I think Rice spoke as a representative of the Administration and was trying to advance the Administration's attempt, in the excercise of its veto, to balance the demands of domestic politics, international politics and principle.

She was trying to condemn Israeli settlement expansion and general settlement policy, criticized by no less than Allan Dershowitz and Marty Peretz, while at the same time vetoing the Palestinians'/U.N's attempt to make an isolated, international centrality of that policy, particularly amidst all that can be rightly charged against the Palestinans as obstructors to a two state solution.

She was resisting the Palestinians' symbolic campaign in the public relations dimension of the promotion of their own agenda. She was trying to direct the issues back to the parties themselves. That's the act of an ally with a balanced perspective.

What's wrong with that?

If you don't think the U.S. doesn't stand with Israel, then set out please the ways the U.S. under Obama has cut back against the foreign aid and military cooperation America historically has provided Israel.


Itzik Basman


You wrote: "She was trying to condemn Israeli settlement expansion and general settlement policy, criticized by no less than Allan Dershowitz and Marty Peretz, while at the same time vetoing the Palestinians'/U.N's attempt to make an isolated, international centrality of that policy, particularly amidst all that can be rightly charged against..."

I think that's what HILLARY was trying to do, when she distinguishedbetween calling the settlements illegitimate and calling the settlementsillegal. What RICE was trying to do was slam Israel in the strongestterms possible - the better to show her displeasure and distaste for theveto - and leaving it open whether she thought that the settlements wereboth illegal and illegitimate.

But that's not the issue.

The issue is that if you're taking an action,don't undermine your strength by saying the opposite. Look at this as asimple exercise in public speaking: Rice was tasked with articulating tothe world why the United States was doing what it was doing, which is tosay, vetoing. Did her speech convey those reasons in tone and content? You'd he hard-pressed to make the case that it did. Put another way: there are plenty of opportunities to condemn Israelsettlement construction, but not when you're vetoing a condemnation ofIsraeli settlement construction.

You wrote: "If you don't think the U.S. doesn't stand with Israel, then set out please the ways the U.S. under Obama has cut back against the foreign aid and military cooperation America historically has provided Israel. "

You're being obtuse. My argument was exactly the opposite: that Rice was being insubordinate by petulantly acting out against the Obama administration's decision to stand with Israel.



Omri, a few points in response:

Rice used the word “illegitimate” not illegal. If you think she wasn’t articulating Administration policy in her speech you are making an argument from body language or some such—“tone.” If you think she was being petulant and insubordinate, where is there any corroborating evidence of that? Where has she been upbraided for her insubordination? Where is the reporting, apart from you recording your impressions, of the Administration thinking so, of consequences to her for her insubordination? If there is none, maybe the Administration doesn’t share your impressions, which doesn’t help their accuracy or factuality.

Respectfully, you are virtually arguing in a circle. The issue, you say, is undermining your strength by saying the opposite. So I say to you she was not saying the opposite, that in a balanced way she (for the Administration) supported Israel by vetoing the resolution, but did so in a speech that is of a piece with clear, unchanging Administration policy on the settlements over the course of this presidency. Your answer is that she said the opposite of “her strength” because she said the opposite, your premise being your conclusion. You point to a distinction between illegal and illegitimate, which the text of her speech does not bear, and then you tell me about tone.

You say, for a further example, “Put another way: there are plenty of opportunities to condemn Israel settlement construction, but not when> you're vetoing a condemnation of Israeli settlement construction.” This formulation is gimmicky and rhetorical, not substantive. It doesn’t bear analytic scrutiny. The issue precisely was not condemning Israeli settlement policy as such. This Administration does condemn that policy. Here, it offered an alternative that many felt was the functional equivalent of the resolution, if it had passed. The issue was precisely the forum and the symbolic import of a Security Council Resolution, not support for settlement policy. Rice made that issue manifest in her reasons offered for the veto.

If you truly think that Obama stands with Israel on settlement policy—I would not have thought so—then you are right to note the distinction between that support and Rice’s petulant subordination. The problems here of course are that:

(1) you have merely asserted the latter in lieu of demonstrating it;

2) Rice’s comments on the settlement policy are indistinguishable from> Administration policy and, most centrally;

(3) you conflate, on the one hand, the veto for forum reasons and symbolic implications—a highly qualified and contextual, procedurally really, standing with Israel on the settlements—with standing with Israel on its settlement policy, so unqualified, on the other hand.



You're missing the argument about Rice. The impression she left was that she AGREED with the resolution, and that was the impression she intended to give. The argument was "we agree with the content but not the process." Hillary went out of her way to say we didn't agree with the content either.

As to whether Rice was reflecting administration policy, I'll leave that to you. If you want to argue that she was doing what she was told, you can't argue that the Obama administration wasn't throwing Israel to the jackals. Up to you.

I'm kind of surprised that doesn't seem to be obvious to you.


So, at least for the moment, taking the above quote (from February 20, 2011 interview with Christiane Amanpour) as representative of what Clinton said including about the difference between illegal and illegitimate--and remember Rice, as I noted, used the word illegitmate not illegal--I have to ask you what are you high on?

If you can detect in this snippet of comment a rejection of the substance of Rice's remarks, then I can only say your interpretation of texts is different than mine. What are you resting that rejection on, what Hillary didn't say? I invite you send me the actual text of Clinton's rejection of the content of Rice's speech. I'm thinking you can't. And I suspect we're back to "tone."

You keep saying I'm missing the argument, missing the issue and so on. I think you keep restipulating what the argument is and what the issue is; and I keep bumping against your inability to support your evolving versions of what they are.


Actually I was being polite about you missing the argument, in lieu of accusing you of being (intentionally?) obtuse. One more time: there is well-known tension between the State Dept and our UN mission. Reflective of that tension, the UN ambassador explicitly agreed with a resolution calling settlements illegal - she was upset about the forum - and then slammed Israeli settlements as illegitimate. Full stop.

In other words she equated the two.

The Secretary of State, in contrast, explicitly distinguished between illegality and illegitimacy. Different. I don't want to respond to your playground insults in kind, but you seem to have very little grasp of either the complexities of the situation or the diplomatic terrain or the history of the specific debate.

You seem unclear on the stakes of the debate - upstream/downstream consequences, distinctions that make a difference, etc - and so insignificant things appear to you to be modifications and genuine modifications don't seem significant. It's a common problem with people who try to wrap their minds around poorly understood arguments by reference to poorly (reflexively) understood argument theory.

There are textbooks on this topic.

Me: (I paraphrase having lost the post)

Later for all the name calling and for all the obfuscation. Never mind the textbooks, the upwards, downwards, sideways consequences and all the subtleties I'm reflexively not grasping or whatever. You are making this way too complicated because, finally, you got nuttin'.

Let me make it very easy for you: just give me the concrete, particular, actual words whereby, as you say, after all: "The Secretary of State, in contrast, explicitly distinguished between illegality and illegitimacy."


Never heard back from the guy.

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