Yes, that was the implicit imbalance behind the failed vote in the UN on February 18, 2011, that would have described as "illegal" Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, while reiterating demands that all settlement activity should cease immediately.
Although it was a UN Security Council ballot, and the vote was 14 to 1, the resolution itself had been sponsored beforehand by 130 member countries. Can all these countries be wrong? The British certainly don't consider themselves to be, as Foreign Secretary William Hague stated during the debate: "Today the UK voted with others, including France and Germany, to reinforce... our longstanding view that settlements, including in East Jerusalem, are illegal under international law, an obstacle to peace and constitute a threat to a two-state solution."
The United States, which earlier had called for an end of Israeli settlement activity, then renounced the effort after being snubbed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has now turned the clock back to repudiate its own previous stand as it vetoed the February 18 resolution.
How does the U.S. explain this blatant inconsistency? By a blithe sidestep coming from its UN representative, Susan Rice:
Our opposition to the resolution before this Council today should... not be understood to mean we support settlement activity. On the contrary, we reject in the strongest terms the legitimacy of Israeli settlement activity. For more than four decades, Israeli settlement activity in territories occupied in 1967 has undermined Israel's security and corroded hopes for peace and stability in the region. Continued settlement activity violates Israel's international commitments, devastates trust between the parties, and threatens the prospects for peace.
Ms. Rice went on to state that the U.S. favors a two-state solution with a contiguous state of Palestine and added:
The only way to reach that common goal is through direct negotiations between the parties, with the active and sustained support of the United States and the international community. It is the Israelis' and the Palestinians' conflict, and even the best-intentioned outsiders cannot resolve it for them.
Of course, the formulaic call for "direct negotiations between the parties" is another way of saying that the Israelis can remain in control, they being by far the strongest party.
No, it ain't cricket. But the game isn't over. The next scene will be in September with a proposal that Palestine be admitted to the United Nations.
Charles Cogan was the chief of the Near East South Asia Division in the Directorate of Operations of the CIA from August 1979 to August 1984. He is currently an Associate at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard's Kennedy School.