There is no doubt that Samantha Power turned in a strong performance during her confirmation hearing at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Wednesday, and likely secured her confirmation as UN Ambassador. She was as good as Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel was bad in his confirmation hearing. But the pro-Israel crowd, which was as pleased as the anti-Israel crowd was displeased, should scrutinize closely a bold promise that Power made during her hearing: to grant Israel a seat on the UN Security Council.
Josh Rogin, writing for the Daily Beast, recounts that Power made that promise explicitly in a response to a question by Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ): “The Security Council seat is one that has eluded Israel, despite its many contributions across the years, and I commit to you wholeheartedly to go on offense, as well as playing defense on the legitimation of Israel, and we’ll make every effort to secure greater integration of Israeli public servants in the U.N. system,” she told the committee, impressing the Senators and the press.
However, there is no chance that she will be able to deliver. The reason is simple. Temporary seats on the UN Security Council rotate among members of the UN’s regional groups. Israel is the only country that does not belong to a regional group, because the Arab and Islamic states will not allow it to participate in the Asian group, and the “Western European and Others Group” will only allow it to participate on a limited basis. Therefore Israel has never had the opportunity that many of its neighbors–and enemies–have had.
Furthermore, Europe is not about to let Israel join its ranks at the UN. On Tuesday, the European Union announced a boycott of Israeli institutions in East Jerusalem and the West Bank–a harsh measure that even members of the Israeli peace camp called counter-productive. Adding insult to injury, the EU directive was issued on Tisha B’Av, the day Jews mourn the loss of ancient Jerusalem. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected the EU policy: “We will not accept any outside diktat about our borders,” he said.
The price that Europe would demand for being able to join the “Western European and Others Group” at the UN is one that Israel would never be willing to pay–ceding all claims of sovereignty in the Old City, giving up all territorial claims in the West Bank, and perhaps even yielding to Palestinian demands on refugees. The EU shows no sign of adopting a more productive approach. So there is no chance that Israel will be able to qualify for a seat on the UN Security Council, and the UN will certainly not change the rules for its sake.
Power’s promise is therefore worthless. And it could be worse than that, if what she means is that she will press Israel to make the same concessions that Europe is demanding. Recall that the position of the Obama administration–in contrast to all of its predecessors–is that any Israeli presence across the 1967 borders, even in Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem, is considered a “settlement” and therefore problematic at best and illegitimate at worst. Perhaps Power’s apparent revision of her earlier views is not all that it seems.