Wednesday, February 8th | 17 Shevat 5783

January 5, 2017 5:14 am

Bernard-Henri Lévy: Israel, Obama and the United Nations

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avatar by Bernard-Henri Lévy

US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power. Photo: Screenshot.

US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power. Photo: Screenshot.

I am an unwavering proponent of the two-state solution in the Middle East.

And I continue to think that, even battered and bruised, abandoned by some, rejected by others, it is the only solution that, over time, will allow Israel to remain at once the Jewish state conceived by its pioneers and the exemplary democracy whose spirit and institutions 70 years of war, open and otherwise, have not managed to erode.

Yet, inured as I am to disappointment, I was deeply shocked by the circumstances surrounding the adoption by the United Nations Security Council, on December 23, of Resolution 2334, which called upon Israel to “immediately … cease” what some view as the colonization of the occupied Palestinian territories.

I know that news moves fast. Given that fast pace — especially at a moment when the United States has eyes and ears only for the “transition,” for the acts and utterances of the president-elect, for the government that he is setting up, and for his wife, his daughter and little Barron — this story may strike some as already being ancient history. Nevertheless, it has been swirling around in my head for two weeks. And I would like to take a moment to explain why.

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  1. There was the source, of course: the United Nations, an organization that for decades has not ceased to condemn, vilify, and ostracize Israel, becoming in the process one of the last places on earth where one could expect to encounter, on this question as on many others, a balanced or courageous stance.
  1. Then there was the spectacle of those fifteen raised hands, the same hands that were so pointedly not raised a few days before to stop the massacre in Aleppo. How could they dare to portray little Israel as the great barrier to peace? How could they imagine that by doing so they might recover in the applause of those in attendance a share of their lost honor? And what is one to make of the splintered and anemic international community trying to repair itself on the back of the Jewish state? All of this was as pathetic as it was ghoulish.
  1. There was the poor wording of the text of the resolution, which, despite the phrase condemning “all acts of violence against civilians, including acts of terror” (the words “including acts of terror” lead one to wonder about the other “acts of violence” that are being put on the same plane as these “acts of terror”), assigned responsibility for blocking the peace process primarily, if not solely, to Israel. What about Palestinian obstinacy? What about the double-speak of the Ramallah government? What about the Christmas trees on which, in some quarters of Arab Jerusalem, people hung, in place of garlands, photos of “martyrs” killed in “combat” — killed, that is, while trying to stab Israeli civilians? None of that, for the drafters of the resolution or for those who voted for and celebrated it, apparently was an “obstacle to peace.” Nothing was equal in perfidy to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s policy of expanding the settlements.
  1. There was the question of the settlements and the manner in which the issue was, once again, presented. That the continued pursuit of settlements in the West Bank is wrong — that is obvious. And that there is a growing number of hawks on the Israeli right who, with Netanyahu at their head, dream of seeing the process accelerate into an irreversible situation — that is probable. But it is not true that we are already there. It is not accurate to present the building effort as a methodical and malign proliferation metastasizing throughout the future Palestine and dismembering it in advance. The reality, readily apparent to anyone who takes the trouble to analyze matters without blinkers or prejudice, is that the territorial concentration of the densest settlements is creating a situation that, except for the number of settlements, is not radically different from that which prevailed in the Sinai Peninsula before the 1982 agreement with Egypt or in the Gaza Strip before the redeployment undertaken by Ariel Sharon in 2004. In fact, the great majority of the building is still being done close enough to the Green Line to permit, when the time comes, an exchange of territory and, elsewhere (that is, at the most distant and isolated sites) to allow for admittedly painful evacuations. (Not to mention the option that I am amazed is so seldom raised — namely, that Jews should be invited to stay and live in the new Palestine, just as 1.5 million Palestinians now live in Israel as full citizens.)
  1. And finally there was, for the first time in forty years, the surprise abstention of the United States delivered by Ambassador Samantha Power, followed a few days later by Secretary of State John Kerry’s long speech in support. People can say what they will about this. But to see this administration, which has conceded so much to Iran, offered so little resistance to Russia, and invented, in Syria, the doctrine of a red line that turned out to be red only with the blood of Syrians sacrificed on the altar of a renunciation of power and of law; to see that same administration trying to compensate for all this by speaking up at the last minute against the planet’s black sheep, the scruffy prime minister of Israel — what could be more abject?

I no longer recognized, in this facile effort to regain lost authority on the cheap, the obscure young senator from Illinois whom I met in Boston one day in July 2004: he evoked for me, then, the shared glory — in his eyes, parallel and commensurate glories — of the American civil rights movement and the Jewish people’s new flight from Egypt, as represented by Zionism.

But I sense only too clearly now the early warning signs of a broken humanity, resounding more loudly than ever before with the clash of empires and of competing visions of the world, doomed to suffer the eternal recurrence of injustice and carnage — but in which “the longest hate” once again becomes a shared religion.

Bernard-Henri Lévy — French philosopher, filmmaker, and activist; defender of Israel and of Jewish values — returns to New York on January 11 for a conversation with Charlie Rose at the 92nd Street Y. On the previous day, Random House will publish The Genius of Judaism, an English translation of Lévy’s best-seller, L’Esprit du judaïsme. 

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