Obama’s Putin-Naziyahu conundrum: When is it OK to seize, occupy territory?


President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Monday, March 3, 2014. Seeking to keep a pair of delicate diplomatic efforts afloat, Obama will personally appeal to Netanyahu to move forward on peace talks with the Palestinians, while also trying to manage Israel’s deep suspicion of his pursuit of a nuclear accord with Iran. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
President Barack Obama met today with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as the two leaders cordially discussed the importance of earnest  negotiations with the Palestinians regarding West Bank settlements and an eventual land-for-peace deal. Israel has occupied the West Bank militarily since seizing it by force in 1967. Israel has refused to budge, and the reality is that nothing will happen until the two sides negotiate a solution.
Just as they sat down to meet, Obama told reporters that Russia must understand that it cannot “with impunity” send its troops into neighboring territory — Ukraine — and occupy it against all international norms and laws. The United States is contemplating “a whole series of steps” — economic, diplomatic, etc. — to pressure Russia to leave.
The message to Russia, given the U.S. tolerance of Israeli military occupation and settlement of the West Bank for 47 years, is that this is really just a matter of negotiation. Stay put, don’t yield to any pressure. Send thousands of more Russians to occupy the Crimean Peninsula. Let them build houses. Use bulldozers to mow down Ukrainian houses. Perhaps the Russian military can even guard Russian settlers while they take land belonging to Ukrainians.
And maybe in 30 or 40 years, Russians and Ukrainians can negotiate some kind of deal.
This is the problem when the United States maintains an inconsistent foreign policy. The United States used military force when Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990. The seizure of territory by military force was unacceptable and required a forceful U.S. and international response, Washington insisted.
But when Israel seized the Golan Heights from Syria in 1973, the United States pressed the two sides to negotiate. They did negotiate. Israel kept the land and annexed it, over Syria’s protests. When Israel seized the West Bank in 1967, Israel colonized it. The United States has steadfastly blocked any kind of international economic or diplomatic pressure aimed at making Israel leave. In fact, quite the opposite. The United States has given billions of dollars in aid to Israel, effectively freeing up other Israeli public funds to help finance the occupation and colonization of the West Bank.
Russian President Vladimir Putin must surely be confused. Does the United States want Russia to leave Ukraine the way it wanted Saddam Hussein to leave Kuwait? Or is this more the Israeli-West Bank variety of response?
The irony cannot be lost on anyone, though, that at a time when the world is anxiously awaiting a response to overt Russian aggression in Ukraine, the U.S. president is meeting with the prime minister of a country that has done exactly as it pleased militarily and been financially rewarded for it by the United States. For Putin, it must ring pretty hollow for Obama to sit there with Netanyahu while lecturing Russia about the illegality of military invasion and occupation.
Since we’re talking about basic principles of international law, it’s worth noting that the United States invaded Panama to capture Gen. Manuel Noriega in 1988 without first seeking U.N. approval. It invaded Grenada in 1983 to rescue endangered American medical students supposedly being held under duress by Cuban-backed forces there. The justifications for these invasions sure sound an awful lot like Putin’s justification for going into Ukraine. Are we imposing a double standard here?

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