President Obama joins the campaign against the Palestinian UN initiative in spite of his belief that the UN is the quarterback of international relations, in defiance of his closest advisors – UN Ambassador Susan Rice, Director of Multilateral Affairs Samantha Power and Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett – and irrespective of his support of Palestinian claims and his assumption that the Palestinian issue is the root cause of Middle East turbulence and the crown jewel of Arab policy-making.
However, President Obama operates within the Federalist system which precludes an omnipotent president, and significantly constrains his maneuverability. It accords Congress – a bastion of support of the Jewish State – power equal to that of the President, domestically and internationally. The clout of Congress grows in direct correlation to the weakness of Obama, whose popularity plunged from 65% in January 2009 to 39% in August 2011. Obama is aware that House and Senate Democratic leaders, such as House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, Ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Relations Committee Howard Berman, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and former Chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Robert Menendez, would suspend foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority, should the Palestinians proceed with their UN initiative. The President is cognizant of the fact that their support is critical to his reelection aspirations in November 2012.
Moreover, the US Congress constitutes the most authentic representative of the American people, who – especially upon the tenth anniversary of 9/11 – consider Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims as part of the terrorist threat, view the UN as a role-model of ingratitude and treat Israel as a special, capable, democratic and unconditional ally.
The US campaign against the Palestinian initiative at the UN is driven by the American People’s and Congress’ identification with the Jewish State, and by their mistrust of the UN and the Palestinians. According to a May 26, 2011 CNN poll, 82% of Americans consider Israel an ally and a friend, compared with 72% in 2001. 67% support Israel, while only 16% support the Palestinians, who are as unpopular as Iran (15%) and North Korea (17%). According to a February, 2011 Gallup poll, 68% consider Israel an ally; the April 2011 Rasmussen Report shows that most Americans oppose foreign aid to Arab countries but support foreign aid to Israel; a September 2010 Rasmussen Report indicates that most Americans are willing to defend militarily only five other countries – Canada, Britain, Israel, Germany and Mexico; and the April 2010 Quinnipiac Polling Institute determines that 66% expect Obama to improve treatment of Israel.
According to a February, 2011 Gallup poll, 62% of Americans think that the UN is performing poorly, compared with 30% in 1953. A February, 2011 Rasmussen Report determined that only 27% of likely US voters regard the UN as an ally of the US, while 15% consider the UN an enemy and 54% are undecided.
Congressional attitudes toward the UN reflect public resentment of anti-American bias in the UN, a home court for anti-US countries in general and Islamic and rogue regimes in particular, even though the US funds 22% of the UN budget. Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, recently introduced the United Nations Transparency, Accountability and Reform Act, which would cut off US contributions to any UN entity that grants membership, or any other upgraded status, to the Palestinian Authority. According to Ros-Lehtinen, “UN obsession with castigating Israel — from the Human Rights Council and the Goldstone Report and the Durban conferences to the multitude of UN bodies created for the sole purpose of condemning Israel — has eliminated UN credibility…. The UN’s most infamous anti-Israel act came in 1975, when the General Assembly voted to declare that ‘Zionism is racism.’”
Will Israel leverage the US attitude toward the UN and the Palestinian Authority, or will it persist in the policy of indecisiveness and retreat, which was initiated by the 1993 Oslo Accord?
This article was originally published in “Israel Hayom” Newsletter on September 12, 2011. Yoram Ettinger also publishes The Ettinger Report.