Kirsten Gillibrand doubledasts you up and down, forever and forever, no backies


I had a hard time figuring out where to fit this letter from 17 U.S. Senators to Hillary Clinton, initiated by her successor, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).

In the end, I slotted it into this brief on the PLO flag being raised over DC.

My dilemma had to do with the fact that the letter did not relate to any event I could recognize.

Here’s the letter:

Dear Madame Secretary,

We are very concerned about reports that the Palestinian Authority is drafting a resolution intended for consideration at the United Nations Security Council regarding issues that have been and should continue to be pursued through direct negotiations between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, namely borders and settlements. We believe such a move hurts the prospects for a peace agreement and is not in the interest of the United States.

We strongly urge you to make clear that the United States will veto such a resolution if it is raised at the Council, and to clearly communicate United States’ intent to do so to other Security Council members.

A resolution of this nature would work against our country’s consistent position, which has been that this and other issues linked to the Middle East peace process can only be resolved by the two parties negotiating directly with each other. Between November 2009 and September 2010, the government of Israel imposed a settlement freeze as a goodwill gesture, yet the Palestinians refused to negotiate until the very last month.  Attempts to use a venue such as the United Nations, which you know has a long history of hostility toward Israel, to deal with just one issue in the negotiations, will not move the two sides closer to a two-state solution, but rather damage the fragile trust between them.

We know you have a deep understanding of these issues and a heartfelt friendship toward one of our closest allies, Israel.  That is why we urge you to clearly signal that the U.S. will veto this resolution, and to make it clear to the Palestinian Authority that it needs to sit down in direct talks with Israel, rather than pursue unhelpful resolutions at the United Nations.   We stand ready to be helpful to you in this matter.

Here’s why I’m confused: I’ve got a draft copy of the resolution, and it doesn’t resemble anything Gillibrand is writing about.  In fact, the resolution described in the letter above doesn’t seem to refer to anything except settlements and borders.

The actual resolution does address settlements, but not borders — but weirdest of all is that Gillibrand, in the subtsantive part of her letter, calls for exactly what the resolution calls for: A return to direct negotiations. It’s as if Gillibrand’s office wrote this letter without seeing the resolution — as if the point was to condemn the resolution sight unseen, just because, in the way we did when we were kids and we served notice that our word was final, forever and ever plus a million years.

Here’s the crux of the resolution. The UNSC…

1. Reaffirms that the Israeli settlements established in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, are illegal and constitute a major obstacle to the achievement of a just, lasting and comprehensive peace;

2. Reiterates its demand that Israel, the occupying Power, immediately and completely ceases all settlement activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and that it fully respect all its legal obligations in this regard;

3. Calls upon both parties to act on the basis of international law and their previous agreements and obligations, including under the Roadmap, aimed, inter alia, at improving the situation on the ground, building confidence and creating the conditions necessary for promoting the peace process.

4. Calls upon all partiers to continue, in the interests of the promotion of peace and security, with their negotiations on the the final status issues in the Middle East peace process according to its agreed terms of reference and within the timeframe specified by the Quartet in its statement of 21 September 2010;

5. Urges in this regard the intensification of international and regional diplomatic efforts to support and accelerate the peace process toward the achievement of a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East.

What’s different, exactly, between no. 4 and what the Senate letter is calling for? And no, the calls for a freeze in building do not set final status terms, and are indeed par for the U.S. course, and have been for decades. 

Now this doesn’t mean the resolution is ideal. Israel is explicitly called to task over settlements, which according to the Roadmap are seen as inhibiting final status talks, while any equivalent rebuke to the Palestinians (in no. 3) is merely implied. A more balanced resolution would explicitly cite Palestinian efforts to unilaterally declare statehood, and to garner international recognition for statehood. An even better resolution would note that it is the Palestinians that are currently resisting a return to direct talks.

But this is not what the Gillibrand letter is doing, and it leads me to wonder who exactly is advising Gillibrand?

Have they taken into account that the letter’s signatories may be embarrassed by the final version of the resolutuon? Have they taken into account what straw men do to a just cause? It’s kind of like the political equivalent of crying wolf: When the resolution is made public, and does not impose an outside solution on the parties, and does encourage them to talk directly, the folks considering it will see the straw men have floated away — and will ignore the resolution’s real flaws.

One other point: The United Nations, yes, is a lousy place for Israel. The Security Council, because of its built-in U.S./British/French veto, not so much — diplomats pretty much treat the two bodies as distinct entities. Pretending the UNSC is the UN is not going to win anyone good faith points.

Recommended from JTA