Monday, March 29, 2010

The feud between the U.S. and Israel escalated another notch yesterday, with a report that the U.S. would consider abstaining from a United Nations Security Council vote critical of Israeli settlements in east Jerusalem.

As one of the five permanent members of the Security Council, the U.S. can veto any issue that comes before the Council.  The U.S. has traditionally killed any attempt to use the UN as a platform for criticizing Israel.  If America were to abstain, the resolution condemning Israel for constructing settlements in east Jerusalem could pass.  This would be a significant break from past practice and clear evidence of a fissure between Obama and Netanyahu.

I don't actually expect the U.S. to abstain.  This story is based on an unsubstantiated report, not a declaration from the U.S. government, and could be nothing more than a rumor.  Furthermore, this would be a major deterioration in the U.S.-Israel relationship, and I don't believe President Obama is interested in taking that step.

Instead, I read this as a clear warning from Washington to Israelis.  It would appear that Obama is heeding the advice from the George Mitchell camp over the Dennis Ross camp, and taking a harder line.  The situation brings to mind the oft-quoted quip allegedly uttered by President Clinton after a meeting with Netanyahu in the 1990s, recounted by Andrew Exum earlier today

He thinks he is the superpower and we are here to do whatever he requires.
In short, this is a subtle message from Obama to Netanyahu - we hold the power here, and don't you forget that.

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