The debate over Palestinian statehood is set to begin Friday at the United Nations after intense lobbying efforts. Despite unprecedented levels of support for Palestine as a full UN member state, the United States has promised to exercise its veto power in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). Alternatively, Palestine may achieve “enhanced membership status” through the General Assembly (UNGA). At odds with most of the rest of the world, America’s decision to veto is heavily influenced by its “Israel Lobby” led by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). The result is an isolating and dangerous effect on U.S. foreign diplomacy.
To plead its case for statehood, the Palestinian Authority (PA) embarked on an extensive international lobbying campaign. Diplomats brought along a homemade chair, symbolic of the one it hopes to attain in the UNGA, painted UN blue and bearing a small Palestinian flag. They claim to have the two-thirds majority needed for approval in the UNGA. Meanwhile, AIPAC set its machine to work in a more concentrated strategy, buying opposition to statehood in Congress. AIPAC support can be crucial in tight political campaigns.
Recently passed House Resolution 268 and Senate Resolution 185, essentially authored by AIPAC, reaffirmed Congress’ opposition to the statehood bid, and threatened to cut $550 million annually in aid to the PA. A more recent proposal in the House would even cut funding to any UN agency or program supporting elevated status for Palestine. By contrast, AIPAC has helped secure $108 billion of cumulative aid to Israel. American military assistance to Israel equals about $3 billion yearly, which is more than the U.S. gives to UN peacekeeping and humanitarian programs worldwide. But while AIPAC claims victories in the policies it helps create, there are two losers (aside from 6.6 million Palestinians): the U.S. military and U.S. foreign diplomacy.
In March 2010, Vice President Joe Biden was greeted in Israel by the approved construction of 1,600 East Jerusalem settler homes. The move was largely seen as a slap in the face of what AIPAC calls Israel’s “one, true ally,” and resulted in Palestinian negotiators' abandoning direct talks. Frustrated, Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, “This is getting dangerous for us,” echoing the concerns of now-CIA Director David Petraeus that the inability of America to apply pressure on Israel strains relationships with Arab allies and endangers the lives of American military personnel fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
Undaunted, AIPAC lobbying drove the Obama administration to veto a UN resolution explicitly labeling these settlements illegal, opposing all 14 other members of the UNSC. At AIPAC’s behest, American politicians hold hands with perhaps the costliest ally in U.S. history while squandering the opportunity to work with the most willing Palestinian partners in over 60 years. How willing? Palestinians would even bring their own chair to the UN.
Photo Credit: Beau Miller