Hillary Clinton’s Tuesday schedule showed her going twice to the White House — first for a 3:30 p.m. meeting with the president and then again for a 5:15 p.m. meeting. Deputy Secretary Jim Steinberg also had two meetings there — at 12:30 p.m. and again at 5:15 p.m. In light of Omri Ceren’s post — and Steinberg’s testimony last week before the House Foreign Affairs Committee — it seems clear what they were meeting about: the commitment to prevent a UN Security Council condemnation of Israeli settlements.
At the House hearing, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) told Steinberg he was irked because “the Palestinians are refusing to sit down with the Israelis and negotiate without all these ridiculous preconditions, which actually shouldn’t be preconditions at all. That’s what you negotiate about.” Engel argued that a UN resolution would reward the Palestinians for intransigence and urged the administration to indicate “unequivocally” it would veto it.
In his response, Steinberg said the Security Council was not the place to address the issue; the U.S. would “employ [its] tools” to make sure that did not happen; and the “only way” to resolve the issue was through negotiations:
[W]e have made very clear that we do not think the Security Council is the right place to engage on these issues, and I have had some success, at least for the moment, in not having that arise there. And we will continue to employ the tools that we have to make sure that continues to not happen, and we made clear both to the Palestinians and to our key partners that there are other venues to discuss these issues. But the most important one of which is the one that you identified, which is the only way that this is going to be resolved is through engagement through the parties, and that is our clear and consistent position. [emphasis added]
According to last night’s Foreign Policy report, the U.S. told Arab governments Tuesday that if the UN resolution were withdrawn, the U.S. would support a Security Council presidential statement stating that the Council “does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity, which is a serious obstacle to the peace process” — with an even stronger Quartet statement to follow at its scheduled March meeting. The offer was reportedly rejected yesterday, with the Arabs asking for a Security Council vote tomorrow, with a possibility of further last-minute negotiations on an alternative.
There is no practical difference between a resolution and a statement — not if words matter. The administration committed unequivocally last week to keep the issue out of the Security Council, where it does not belong, and the U.S. has the tools necessary to do that. One can only hope that the flurry of meetings Tuesday was about how to meet that commitment, not how to avoid it.