As President Obama's tenure in the White House draws to a close, the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian issue has once again burst to the forefront of the foreign policy debate in Washington.
On Dec. 23, the United States abstained on a vote in the United Nations Security Council reiterating the illegality of Israeli settlements in the Palestinian West Bank, including East Jerusalem.
Five days later, Secretary of State John KerryJohn KerryClimate policies propel a growing dysfunction of Western democracies Kerry calls out countries that need to 'step up' on climate change Those on the front lines of climate change should be empowered to be central to its solution MORE delivered a major policy address on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, casting in doubt the feasibility of a two-state resolution as Israel continues its relentless settlement drive undeterred.
With the new Congress now in session, the House is poised to vote on Thursday on a resolution objecting to the Security Council resolution and the Obama administration's decision to abstain. A similar resolution in the Senate is reportedly in the works.
Surprisingly, though, given all the drama, atmospherics and handwringing elicited by this series of events, nothing voted on in the U.N., or said at the State Department or enacted in the halls of Congress will change U.S. policy, nor alter Israel's calculus in pursuing its untenable course of permanent military occupation and unending colonization of Palestinian land.
And with Donald TrumpDonald TrumpGOP grapples with chaotic Senate primary in Pennsylvania Trump social media startup receives commitment of billion from unidentified 'diverse group' of investors Iran thinks it has the upper hand in Vienna — here's why it doesn't MORE on the cusp of his inauguration, the debate about whether the Obama administration was right to allow this Security Council resolution to pass — indeed, the entire current policy framework for discussing the Israeli-Palestinian issue inside the Beltway — will become irrelevant.
Far from the assertions of some members of Congress that the Obama administration's abstention on U.N. Security Council Resolution 2334 constituted an historic abandonment of Israel at the U.N. and a major shift in U.S. policy, the resolution actually faithfully reflects five decades of stated bipartisan presidential opposition to Israeli settlements.
In fact, the resolution closely parallels the language of U.N. Security Council Resolution 446, adopted in 1979, holding that "the policy and practices of Israel in establishing settlements in the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967 have no legal validity." The United States also abstained on that resolution, but noted that its "content generally accords with the frequently stated position of the United States on settlements in the occupied territories."
While the U.N. resolution, in the words of Kerry, did "not break new ground" on the international community's stance regarding Israeli settlements, the outgoing secretary of State nevertheless felt compelled to offer a lengthy justification of the U.S. decision to abstain.
Marshaling detailed statistics on the growth and strategic placement of Israeli settlements and displaying an intimate knowledge of Israeli land-use planning processes, Kerry laid out a convincing argument why the two-state resolution is "in serious jeopardy."
Israel's settlement activity is "increasingly cementing an irreversible one-state reality," he warned. If Israel persists in the mistaken notion that Palestinians can continue to be placed "under a permanent military occupation that deprives them of the most basic freedoms," then a "separate and unequal" scenario exists.
"Would an Israeli accept living that way?" Kerry asked rhetorically.
Despite his lucid assessment of the intentions of Israel's government and the ramifications of those policies, however, Kerry’s speech was distressingly paltry on prescriptions for salvaging the two-state resolution. His call for more direct talks between the parties to establish a Palestinian state, after acknowledging that the current Israeli government opposes Palestinian sovereignty, seemed farcical and detached from reality.
And the much-awaited parameters he put forward for a two-state resolution turned out to be stale regurgitations of failed negotiating sessions long since relegated to inconsequence.
A more far-sighted and inspiring speech would not only have acknowledged the one-state reality Israel has created through its colonization of Palestinian land, but would also have laid out a vision for how Palestinians and Israeli Jews can now coexist within this reality on the basis of equality, justice and dignity.
But these actions by the Obama administration were not intended to be visionary. Instead, they were geared with an eye to the history books. With the U.N. vote and Kerry's speech, the Obama administration has put itself on the record as having unmistakably warned Israel of its self-demise. It will be glad to turn the keys over to the Trump administration to reckon with the policy consequences of that.
And with the advent of the Trump administration, the death knell of Palestinian statehood has been unmistakably sounded as Washington shifts radically rightward in step with the Israeli government.
Not without reason, hardline Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett declared that with Trump's victory, "the era of a Palestinian state is over." Trump's nominee for ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, has raised millions of dollars for Israeli settlements, and his pick to lead international negotiations, including Israeli-Palestinian talks, Jason Greenblatt (a contributor to The Hill), volunteered in the past to pull guard duty at an Israeli settlement.
The incoming Trump administration appears ideologically intent on upending Washington's long-maintained, bipartisan opposition to Israeli settlements.
Kerry reasoned that if the Obama administration had vetoed the U.N. Security Council resolution, "the United States would have been giving license to further unfettered settlement construction that we fundamentally oppose."
A congressional vote to oppose the Obama administration's vote, combined with the incoming administration's fervent identification with Israel's settlement project, will finally provide Israel with what it has long sought from the United States: A license to colonize Palestinian land at will, bringing about the eventual emergence of the unitary state the Obama administration has tried to prevent.
Josh Ruebner is the policy director of the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights and author of "Shattered Hopes: Obama's Failure to Broker Israeli-Palestinian Peace."
The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.