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The Price of the U.S. Veto in the Security Council

JINSA Report #: 

June 14, 2011

Picking up where we left off, it seems the countries of the United Nations have begun to have second thoughts about trying to "create" a Palestinian state through the General Assembly, or - since the Palestinians declared their state independent in 1998 - accepting "Palestine" as a member of the UN without the imprimatur of the Security Council. Why now? We postulated that without the surety of a U.S. veto, they fear finding their own secessionist or irredentist movements - hundreds and hundreds of them - planning to bypass international norms as well to declare their independence.

But won't the United States veto the Palestinian demand for statehood? After all, President Obama has loudly said the UN was not the appropriate vehicle for establishing Palestine - negotiations with Israel are. Just last week, the President and German Chancellor Merkel stood together and reiterated the point. He called the Palestinians going to the UN a "mistake."

There is a difference between saying something is a bad idea and declaring that should they persevere, the United States will veto the Resolution. And there is a difference between taking a stand on principle and taking it only after trying every possible maneuver to avoid it and after trying to make Israel pay for it.

According to Eli Lake in The Washington Times, "A senior administration official Friday told American Jewish leaders that the request for Israel to endorse the president's peace principles was part of an effort to head off Palestinian plans to declare an independent state at the United Nations in September...'We have a month to see if we can work something out with the Israelis and Palestinians as accepting these principles as a basis for negotiations," [Steven Simon] said. "If that happens we are somewhat confident that the Palestinians will drop what they intend to do in the UN.'"

If the Administration opposes it, what difference does it make whether the Palestinians go forward or not? We can just veto it - and a serious threat of our veto should be enough to stop them. But this isn't the first time the Administration took an "if-then" position, or was diffident about Israel's position in the UN.

  • In May 2010, the United States joined the other 188 parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in singling out Israel for a conference to take place next year discussing banning weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East, changing the longstanding American determination that Israel not be singled out. Iran was not named in the Resolution.

  • The United States voted against the Goldstone Report in the General Assembly, but did nothing to support Israel, casting its single vote as one of 192 countries, not as a leader of others. Goldstone has since, of course, recanted much of the report that bears his name. (In a similar move, the United States voted for Canada to assume its traditional once-in-a-decade slot on the Security Council, but did not help Ottawa round up votes. When the Canadians lost to Portugal - a much less pro-Israel vote - the Administration said indignantly, "But we voted for it.")

  • In November 2010, the United States wanted Israel to extend its "settlement freeze," and among other inducements, promised to oppose a unilateral declaration of Palestinian independence. We asked at the time whether the U.S. opposition was principled, and, if it was, why it was necessary for Israel to "pay" for it.

  • In February, the Security Council wanted to declare Israeli houses east of the 1949 Armistice Line "illegal." The Administration did everything it could to find language for which it could vote but ultimately exercised the veto - while announcing in no uncertain terms that it really didn't like those houses either.

The Administration's maneuvering tacitly if not overtly encourages increased hostility from Israel's adversaries. It seems it may be making other countries nervous as well - if the United States can't be counted on to protect Israel, its democratic partner and ally in the Middle East, how can the United States be counted on to support their security requirements?

Maybe it can't.

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