The Middle East has few bright spots these days, but one is the budding rapprochement between Israel and its Sunni Arab neighbors, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, thanks to shared threats from Iran and Islamic State. Now the Obama Administration may have plans to wreck even that.
Israeli diplomats gird for the possibility that President Obama may try to force a diplomatic resolution for Israel and the Palestinians at the United Nations. The White House has been unusually tight-lipped about what, if anything, it might have in mind. But our sources say the White House has asked the State Department to develop an options menu for the President’s final weeks.
One possibility would be to sponsor, or at least allow, a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlement construction, perhaps alongside new IRS regulations revoking the tax-exempt status of people or entities involved in settlement building. The Administration vetoed such a resolution in 2011 on grounds that it “risks hardening the position of both sides,” which remains true.
But condemning the settlements has always been a popular way of scoring points against the Jewish state, not least at the State Department, and an antisettlement resolution might burnish Mr. Obama’s progressive brand for his postpresidency.
Mr. Obama may also seek formal recognition of a Palestinian state at the Security Council. This would run afoul of Congress’s longstanding view that “Palestine” does not have the internationally recognized attributes of statehood, including a defined territory and effective government, though Mr. Obama could overcome the objection through his usual expedient of an executive action, thereby daring the next President to reverse him.
Both actions would be a boon to the bullies in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, while also subjecting Israeli citizens and supporters abroad to new and more aggressive forms of legal harassment. It could even criminalize the Israeli army—and every reservist who serves in it—on the theory that it is illegally occupying a foreign state. Does Mr. Obama want to be remembered as the President who criminalized Israeli citizenship?
The worst option would be an effort to introduce a resolution at the U.N. Security Council setting “parameters” for a final settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. The French have been eager to do this for some time, and one option for the Administration would be to let the resolution pass simply by refusing to veto it. Or the U.S. could introduce the resolution itself, all the better to take credit for it.
As the old line has it, this would be worse than a crime—it would be a blunder. U.S. policy has long and wisely been that only Israelis and Palestinians can work out a peace agreement between themselves, and that efforts to impose one would be counterproductive. Whatever parameters the U.N. established would be unacceptable to any Israeli government, left or right, thereby destroying whatever is left of a peace camp in Israel.
The Palestinians would seize on those parameters as their birthright, making it impossible for any future Palestinian leader to bargain part of them away in a serious negotiation. Arab states would find their diplomatic hands tied, making it impossible to serve as useful intermediaries between Jerusalem and Ramallah. It could refreeze relations with Israel even as they finally seem to have thawed.
President Obama may be the last man on earth to get the memo, but after decades of fruitless efforts to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict it might be wiser for the U.S. to step back until the Palestinians recognize that peace cannot be imposed from the outside. If Mr. Obama is still seeking a Middle East legacy at this late stage in his presidency, his best move is do nothing to make it worse.
Russia and NATO are to hold separate drills with the Balkan nations of Serbia and Montenegro, both formerly part of Yugoslavia. It comes as the Russian envoy to NATO has warned that the Western alliance’s buildup could be harmful for other countries’ security.
On Monday, 680 personnel from 32 NATO states and partner countries, including Georgia, Albania, Israel and Ukraine, started a series of joint exercises known as Crna Gora (Montenegro) 2016. Between October 31 and November 4, multinational teams will participate in a number of scenarios simulating various disasters such as floods and chemical spills.
“This is an opportunity to work with them [NATO] during the four-day exercise to determine our capacity and the capabilities of our response to natural disasters, as well as to recognize our weaknesses and eliminate them in time,” said Montenegro’s Deputy Prime Minister and former intelligence chief Dusko Markovic, as quoted by the newspaper Vijesti.
In December, NATO formally invited Montenegro to join the alliance, while in May it has been granted an observer status after accession negotiations.
Meanwhile in Serbia, 150 paratroopers from the reconnaissance battalion of the Ivanovo Airborne Division are to arrive in Belgrade to take part in the military exercise Slavic Brotherhood 2016. The Russian troops will be joined by Serbian and Belarusian forces.
The joint Russian-Serbian exercise will last between November 2 and 15, and will also involve over 50 soldiers from the Russian Military Transport Aviation along with combat vehicles including the BMD-2 infantry fighting vehicle, the Tachyon drone and four ATVs for raids and reconnaissance missions. This would mark the second set of Slavic Brotherhood exercises with Serbia, with the first held last year near Novorossiysk.
Russia’s Permanent Representative to NATO, Aleksandr Grushko, said on Monday that NATO’s buildup close to Russian territory could have a negative impact on the general security situation in the region.
“NATO’s [systematic] efforts have been changing the very essence of the military security in the regions which are adjacent to the Russian border,” Grushko said in an interview to Rossiya-24 channel which aired on Monday.
“This seriously worsens the regional security and the security of those countries that participate in these drills and this activity,” he said, adding that NATO’s ongoing military buildup in its eastern flank is “some sort of project that not only does not correspond to the common European security interests, but goes against them.”
Reflecting on the earlier statements by NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who said on Thursday that NATO did not want to get caught up in a new Cold War with Russia, Grushko pointed out that NATO has been sending mixed signals on purpose in a bid to justify its military buildup.
“I think it’s a double signal. First of all, it’s a signal to western public opinion that all NATO actions on its eastern flank are calibrated and do not transcend the framework of reasonable defense. Secondly, it’s also an apparent attempt to send a signal to us, so that Russia will not react in what they believe to be an excessive and aggressive manner,” he said, adding: “In effect,” NATO’s increased military activity close to Russian borders is “justified by nothing.”
While Stoltenberg claimed that NATO aims “to strive for a more cooperative and constructive relationship" with Russia, in reality the alliance does not seem to maintain this approach, as evidenced by its recent refusal to discuss flight security in the Baltic Sea region, the Russian diplomat said.
“The very fact that NATO’s countries refused to convene for the meeting, proposed by us and to be held at the level of military experts in Moscow and devoted to all aspects of air traffic security in this region, speaks volumes,” Grushko said, adding that NATO may not be that genuine in its attempt to improve air traffic security over the Baltic Sea.
In July, Russia’s Defense Ministry said that Russia is ready to fly all its missions over the Baltic Sea with the transponders on, but only if NATO member states reciprocate.