A letter from an array of concerned policy commentators and practitioners, academics, and former government officials about the resolution pending at the United Nations Security Council on illegal Israeli settlements in Occupied Territory has just been released and is posted below.
Among those signing the letter are former US Trade Representative and Council on Foreign Relations Chair Carla Hills, journalist and former New Republic editor Peter Beinart, former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Pickering, former Assistant Secretary of State James Dobbins, former Assistant Secretary of State Robert Pastor, former New Republic editor and Atlantic Senior Editor and Daily Dish publisher Andrew Sullivan, former US Secretary of Defense Frank Carlucci and former US Ambassador to Israel Edward “Ned” Walker, among others.
Letter to the President of the United States
Washington, DC — 18 January 2011
Dear Mr. President,
In light of the impasse reached in efforts to revive Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, and as the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) moves to consider a resolution condemning Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territory, we are writing to urge you to instruct our Ambassador to the United Nations to vote yes on this initiative.
carla hills.jpgThe time has come for a clear signal from the United States to the parties and to the broader international community that the United States can and will approach the conflict with the objectivity, consistency and respect for international law required if it is to play a constructive role in the conflict’s resolution.
While a UNSC resolution will not resolve the issue of settlements or prevent further Israeli construction activity in the Occupied Territory, it is an appropriate venue for addressing these issues and for putting all sides on notice that the continued flouting of international legality will not be treated with impunity. Nor would such a resolution be incompatible with or challenge the need for future negotiations to resolve all outstanding issues, and it would in no way deviate from our strong commitment to Israel’s security.
If the proposed resolution is consistent with existing and established US policies, then deploying a veto would severely undermine US credibility and interests, placing us firmly outside of the international consensus, and further diminishing our ability to mediate this conflict.
If the U.S. believes that the text of the resolution is imperfect, there is always the opportunity to set forth additional U.S. views on settlements and related issues in an accompanying statement. The alternative to a Resolution – a consensus statement by the President of the UNSC – would have no stature under international law, hence this option should be avoided.
beinart cap.jpgAs you made clear, Mr. President, in your landmark Cairo speech of June 2009, “The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop.”
There are today over half a million Israelis living beyond the 1967 line – greatly complicating the realization of a two-state solution. That number has grown dramatically in the years since the peace process was launched: in 1993 there were 111,000 settlers in the West Bank alone; in 2010 that number surpassed 300,000.
The settlements are clearly illegal according to article 49 of the Fourth Geneva convention – a status recognized in an opinion issued by the State Department’s legal advisor on April 28, 1978, a position which has never since been revised.
That official US legal opinion describes the settlements as being “inconsistent with international law”. US policy across nine administrations has been to oppose the settlements, with the focus for the last two decades being on the incompatibility of settlement construction with efforts to advance peace. The Quartet Roadmap, for instance, issued during the Bush presidency in 2003, called on Israel to “freeze all settlement activity, including natural growth.”
Andrew_Sullivan_.jpgIndeed, the US has upheld these principles, including their application to East Jerusalem, by allowing the passage of previous relevant UNSC resolutions, including: UNSCRs 446 and 465, determining that the settlements have “no legal validity”; UNSCRs 465 and 476, affirming the applicability of the Fourth Geneva convention to the Occupied Territory; UNSCRs 1397 and1850 stressing the urgency of achieving a comprehensive peace and calling for a two state solution; and UNSCR 1515, endorsing the Quartet Roadmap.
At this critical juncture, how the US chooses to cast its vote on a settlements resolution will have a defining effect on our standing as a broker in Middle East peace. But the impact of this vote will be felt well beyond the arena of Israeli-Palestinian deal-making – our seriousness as a guarantor of international law and international legitimacy is at stake.
America’s credibility in a crucial region of the world is on the line – a region in which hundreds of thousands of our troops are deployed and where we face the greatest threats and challenges to our security. This vote is an American national security interest vote par excellence. We urge you to do the right thing.