Was the U.S. about to sharply break with its past policy on the use of the UN for dealing with Israeli-Palestinian differences on the issue of settlements? Back in 2011, Ambassador Susan Rice provided an “explanation of vote” as to why she vetoed a similar resolution on settlements at the time. She made three points: 1) a resolution would harden the positions of both sides, 2) it would also encourage the parties to stay out of negotiations, and 3) it would establish a pattern by which every time the parties reached an impasse, they would return to the UN Security Council. She was right. What she was essentially saying was that the UN and meaningful negotiations are a bad mix – like oil and water.
Israel has multiple reasons to oppose the latest draft resolution. While Mahmoud Abbas has refused to negotiate with Israel, Israelis have not lost hope that someday there will eventually be a negotiated settlement between the two sides that leads to a true compromise. But that requires firm international support for such an outcome. President Obama correctly concluded in September 2011 that “Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the United Nations.” If it becomes the conventional wisdom that in 2016 the U.S. gave up on a future negotiation and preferred instead that the UN take the lead on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, then the peoples of the region will pay a price for years to come.