News Analysis: U.S. veto a sign of declining influence in Mideast

09:02, February 23, 2011      

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Should the fact that the United States had to use its veto in the UN Security Council to block a resolution condemning Israeli settlement construction be considered a sign of weakness?

Last Friday, the United States used its veto in the Security Council to stop the resolution which would have passed with the unanimous support of the 14 other members. In the days prior to the vote there were several reports of American officials trying to convince the Palestinians to drop the resolution.

While the veto was celebrated in Israel as a sign of the special relationship between the U.S. and Israel, some see it as a troubling sign of Washington losing its clout.

In December 2009, Israel imposed a halt on settlement-building in the West Bank following an U.S. request so that peace talks with the Palestinian could restart. However, after the freeze ended in September 2010 the U.S. was unable to persuade the parties to resume negotiations.

Analysts spoke with Xinhua said that the United States was indeed losing influence in the region, but disagreed about the extent of the decline and what implications it will have for Israel.


Yossi Mekelberg, an associate fellow with the Middle East and North Africa Program at the British think tank Chatham House, said that the United States is losing its influence in the Middle East and Israel has "lost its way" in the peace process.

"The U.S. role and prestige in the Middle East is dwindling as a result of Afghanistan and Iraq. It's supporting regimes that have no popular legitimacy or credibility," Mekelberg said.

According to Mekelberg, the alliance between Israel and the United States will remain strong in the future.

However, he said that "the veto made no sense" since U.S. policy sees the settlements as an obstacle to peace, a view restated by the U.S. ambassador to the UN following the vote.

Now the peace process will be put on the backburner for a while, according to Mekelberg, "the focus will remain on the popular protests taking place in several countries in the Middle East and North Africa."

"It's been hijacked by what's happening in other places in the region," Mekelberg said, adding that the Israeli-Palestinian issue has been reduced to "a bit of a sideshow."


Joshua Teitelbaum, a principal research associate at the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center in Herzliya told Xinhua that while U.S. influence might be waning, he remained confident that Washington would bounce back.

"Since World War II, the U.S. has had a strong influence in the region and it will continue, whether through economy, military or all kinds of diplomatic means," Teitelbaum said.

"Its veto was an expression of its support for Israel, and beyond that, an expression of its view that this conflict needs to be solved through direct negotiations," he added.

While labeling the American inability to convince the Palestinians to drop the resolution as "a onetime thing," Teitelbaum said one of the reasons that the United States found itself in this position was its own flawed policy.

He's referring to the U.S. demand that Israel halt settlement construction in 2009 as a precondition for resuming negotiations with the Palestinians. Following the end of the moratorium in September 2009, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas refused to continue to negotiate as long as the freeze was not extended.


Max Singer, a researcher at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University, said that he doesn't see the veto as a sign of waning U.S. power.

Instead, he argues that it is part of a traditional U.S. policy to stand up for Israel's independence and its ability to defend itself.

Asked about Washington's inability to persuade the Palestinians to drop the resolution, Singer said it showed a "decline in U.S. influence."

According to some media reports, the United States allegedly threatened to cut off its multimillion dollar aid to the Palestinian National Authority in exchange for withdrawal of the resolution.

Singer said that Israel now "should follow a policy of defiance against unreasonable attacks" and "state its belief in itself and the justice of its cause."

Asked about the possibility of Israel trying to counter the loss of influence from its main ally by trying to strengthen its relations with other powers, Singer said "there is not anyone that could replace the U.S. as being Israel's supporter."

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