The Obama Administration was right to cast its vote against the Security Council Resolution condemning the continuation of "all" settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as "illegal" and a "major obstacle" to "peace on the basis of the two-state solution."
Although I oppose the expansion of Israeli civilian settlements deep into the West Bank, I also strongly opposed the one-sided, overbroad, legally erroneous and factually inaccurate resolution.
Read as intended by its draftsmen, the vetoed resolution would include the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem and the Western Wall as "occupied Palestinian territory," even though Jordan originally captured and desecrated these Jewish holy places illegally when it attacked the new Jewish state in 1948. Israel lawfully recaptured these areas in a defensive war started by Jordan in 1967. They are not occupied territory and Israel is entitled to build as much as it wants to there.
The resolution would also include heavily populated Jewish areas—such as Maale Adumim and Gilo—that the Palestinian Authority had previously agreed, in principle, would remain part of Israel in any negotiated borders of a two-state solution. It would declare "illegal" such activities as building up the Jewish Quarter, that are clearly legal, as well as activities, such as continuing to build the security barrier, that save human lives and have been found to be entirely legal by the Supreme Court of Israel and numerous legal scholars.
Finally, it would omit activities by the Palestinians—ranging from firing rockets at civilians, inciting violence against Jews, refusal to recognize Israel as the Homeland of the Jewish people, refusing to sit down and negotiate, and rejecting generous offers made by Israel in 2000, 2001 and 2008—that have been the real "obstacles" to "peace on the basis of the two-state solution."
Even more important, passage of such a biased resolution would have discouraged the Palestinian Authority from coming to the negotiating table and trying to resolve their differences with Israel by compromise. Why compromise if the United Nations and the United States are prepared to give them what they want without any negotiation? The international community is sending that destructive message to the Palestinians by threatening to recognize a Palestinian state based on a unilateral declaration by the Palestinian Authority. The vetoed Security Council resolution, pushed by the Palestinian Authority, was part of this unilateral strategy that would make peace, which can only be achieved through negotiation, more difficult.
By demanding that Israel "immediately and completely cease all settlement activities," broadly defined, and demanding absolutely nothing of the Palestinians in return, the resolution—if implemented—would substitute fiat for negotiation and make it more difficult for the Palestinian Authority to offer realistic compromises. The Security Council cannot be perceived by the Palestinian people as being more pro-Palestinian than the Palestinian Authority. The only road to peace, a two-state solution and an end of the occupation is mutual compromise through negotiation—land for peace. This is how peace—cold and tentative as it may be—was achieved with Egypt and Jordan. There were no unilateral declarations or one-sided Security Council resolutions. But if Israel is forced to give up land it captured lawfully in a defensive war without getting anything in return, there will be no peace.
What is forgotten in all this is that it is the Israelis who want to sit down and negotiate a two-state solution and an end to the occupation. They have offered to begin negotiations immediately without any preconditions. The Palestinian Authority has demanded preconditions, and Hamas refuses to negotiate a two-state solution under any circumstances. But you wouldn't know that reading the proposed resolution.
Nor is it true, as some critics of the veto have argued, that the United States was being hypocritical by vetoing a resolution whose content mirrors United States policy. It has always been United States policy that all issues, including the exchange of land for peace and the end of the occupation, must be resolved through negotiations between the parties. It has not been United States policy to declare all building in Jerusalem, including the Jewish Quarter, to be illegal and an obstacle to peace, as the resolution suggests. And it is United States policy to urge the Palestinian Authority to sit down and negotiate without preconditions.
So the United States veto of this counterproductive resolution was consistent with United States policy and correct as a matter of law, logic and common sense. Now let the Palestinian Authority shift their attention from the United Nations, where nothing positive will be accomplished, back to Jerusalem and Ramallah, where real peace can be achieved through immediate negotiations. The Palestinians may be pleasantly surprised by what Israel is prepared to give in exchange for real peace.