State Dept. Spokesman Stonewalls on Settlement Stance

“It is true that How not to do it was the great study and object of all public departments and professional politicians all round the Circumlocution Office.”

– Charles Dickens, Little Dorrit

On Wednesday January 18, at 1:51PM, a master class in American obstructionism, political spin, question-dodging, the zombie-like repetition of non-committal and meaningless talking points was held by United States State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley. When asked by journalists about a new United Nations Security Council resolution draft condemning Israel for its continuing colonization of Palestinian land during the daily press briefing, Crowley managed to avoid giving even a single straight or substantive answer to many of the questions, demonstrating once again the U.S. government’s outright refusal to be honest about anything related to Israel.

The brilliance of Crowley’s performance as a whole might best be summed up by the following statement he made, which came about in the middle of the lengthy exchange between the spokesman and numerous State Department correspondents:

These are complex issues, and we think they’re best resolved through direct negotiations, not through the unilateral declarations, even if those unilateral declarations come in the form of a multilateral setting.

In truth, Crowley’s verbal acrobatics speak for themselves and require very little commentary to demonstrate the boundless energy expended by the U.S. government to protect Israel from any public scrutiny. As such, the conversation will be presented in all its glory at the bottom of this post.

But first, some background:

The new resolution, which reiterates the illegality of all Jewish settlements in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem and demands an immediate cessation of their expansion, will soon come to a vote in the United Nations Security Council. The resolution draft, first put forth by Lebanese representatives and supported by virtually the entire planet (it has nearly 120 co-sponsors from Arab and other non-aligned nations), is wholly uncontroversial in that it simply reaffirms long-standing tenets of international law and repeats the call for the very actions the United States have long demanded, namely for both the Israelis and Palestinians to abide by “previous agreements and obligations” and to continue direct “negotiations on the final status issues in the Middle East peace process.”

The most relevant text of resolution, as revealed by Jewish Telegraph Agency stalwart Ron Kampeas, states that the United Nations Security Council…

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 cease 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 parties to continue, in the interest of the promoting of peace and security, with negotiations on the final status issues in the Middle East peace process, according to its agreed terms of reference and within the time frame specified by the Quartet in its statement of 21 September 2010;

5. Urges in this regard the intensification [sic] 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.

Besides the United States, the four other permanent members of the Security Council – Britain, France, China and Russia – are all expected to vote for the draft without objection. Additionally, the ten non-permanent member states currently sitting on the Council – Germany, South Africa, India, Brazil, Portugal, Lebanon, Nigeria, Colombia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Gabon – are also expected to vote in favor of the resolution.

In the interest of preserving the “inalienable rights of the Palestinians,” the United Nations human rights board supports the measure, and has called upon “world powers to force Israel to put a dead-end on peace-impeding settlement plans,” while expressing “sorrow over the world’s lack of political will.”

Earlier this week, a letter, signed by fifty academics, journalists, rabbis and public officials, including a number of former Assistant Secretaries of State, U.S. ambassadors and diplomats, and a former U.S. Secretary of Defense, was sent to Barack Obama urging the president “to instruct our Ambassador to the United Nations to vote yes on this initiative.”

The letter continues:

The time has come for a clear signal from the Unites 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.

The signatories, who include Lawrence Wilkerson, Thomas Pickering, Andrew Sullivan, Peter Beinart, Paul Pillar, and Chas Freeman, refer to well-established international law and United States policy to strengthen their case. “The settlements are clearly illegal according to article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention,” they write, “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.” They also warn that “if the proposed resolution is consistent with existing and established U.S. policies, then deploying a veto would severely undermine U.S. credibility and interests, placing us firmly outside of the international consensus, and further diminishing our ability to mediate this conflict.”

The so-called “pro-Israel, pro-peace” advocacy organization Americans For Peace Now issued a statement to the White House, calling upon Obama to consider the resolution “on its merits: both the context and the content of the resolution matter,” explaining that the draft has come about due to “Israel’s dogmatic refusal to refrain from settlement activity that is destructive to peace and to Israel’s future” and “is a resolution whose text is consistent with longstanding U.S. policy regarding settlements.” The statement concludes,

Given this context and content, APN calls on the Obama Administration to not veto this resolution in its current form. Vetoing this resolution would conflict with four decades of U.S. policy. It would contribute to the dangerously naive view that Israeli settlement policies do no lasting harm to Israel. And it would send a message to the world that the U.S. is not only acquiescing to Israel’s actions, but is implicitly supporting them.