Anticipation of yesterday’s UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements reached fever pitch two days ago when Egypt announced its plans Wednesday evening to propose a vote. However, amidst speculation about pressure from Israel and the incoming Trump administration, Egypt backed down the following morning, citing the need for more consultations. By Friday, four Council members had issued an ultimatum, reserving the right to propose the resolution regardless of the Egyptian position.
During these 48 hours, and up until the vote on Friday at 3 PM Eastern, the Obama administration, in its final days, was visibly absent, with rumors that the White House intended to abstain, thereby ensuring passage of the resolution.
Resolution 2334, now adopted, “reaffirms that the establishment by Israel of settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, has no legal validity.” Explaining the American abstention, US Ambassador at the UN Samantha Power said the resolution is consistent with longstanding bipartisan policy, insisting that the US wouldn’t have let it pass without addressing “counterproductive actions by the Palestinians.” To this end, the resolution condemns acts of terrorism, provocative actions, incitement and inflammatory rhetoric — all of which actions Israel often accuses Palestinians.
Talk of an American action to salvage the so-called Israeli-Palestinian peace process has been surfacing for months, with speculation that this would range from recognizing Palestinian statehood to a Rose Garden Speech by Obama. It seems that we finally have our answer: green lighting a resolution that is neither revolutionary nor novel in its input. In fact, resolutions with similar language have been passed previously by both the UN General Assembly and Security Council. The Obama administration is fully aware that since this resolution was passed under Chapter VI, rather than Chapter VII of the UN Charter, there is no enforcement mechanism to implement it, and it is not necessarily binding.
Meanwhile, reactions to America’s abstention ranged from the celebratory to the vituperative.
Palestinians welcomed the passing of the resolution, saying it’s “a necessary step for addressing a 70-year open wound.” In Israel, the mood was less celebratory. In a statement issued by his office, Prime Minister Netanyahu said “the Obama administration not only failed to protect Israel against this gang-up at the UN, it colluded with it behind the scenes.” Other world leaders, including UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and US Secretary of State John Kerry welcomed the resolution.
Beyond these predictable reactions, the question remains: what’s the point?
Besides finally exposing a history of shielding Israel at the UN, the Obama administration stands to save face. Since 1972, the US has cast 39 vetoes shielding Israel from critical resolutions in the Security Council. And, Obama’s eight years have been defined by the most humiliating chapter any American administration had with Israeli and Palestinian affairs.
More revealing is perhaps the reaction of many pro-Israel figures in the US, including President-elect Donald Trump. He predictably tweeted about the vote, simply stating that “things will be different” at the UN after he is inaugurated. Members of Congress have also spoken up in support of Israel. Arizona Senator John McCain called the resolution an “outrageous attack,” and Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said he “will work to form a bipartisan coalition to suspend or significantly reduce United States assistance to the United Nations.” Lobbying groups like AIPAC and the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish organization said the resolution is one-sided, unacceptable, and anti-Israel.
Looking ahead, Nikki Haley will replace Samantha Power at the UN. As governor of South Carolina, Haley signed into law the first anti-BDS bill in the country. In the same vein, there is David Friedman, Trump’s pick for ambassador to Israel, who supports relocating the US embassy from Tel Aviv to stolen Palestinian land in Jerusalem. Against this backdrop, the picture looks much less rosy than today’s Security Council vote reveals. However, Palestinians are ready to fight. According to a statement he made at an event in Washington D.C., the Palestinian Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations Riyad Mansour, said he will make life miserable for US representatives if they pursue action against Palestine. “If they do that, nobody should blame us for unleashing all of the weapons that we have in the UN to defend ourselves,” he said.
At the end of the day, what the saga at the UN and subsequent reactions show are three points:
One: That an American abstention from the world’s top council was required to ensure the success of a resolution favoring Palestinian human rights tells us it is time to recognize the American-Palestinian conflict.
Did you know there are more Americans in Palestine engaging in illegal activity than there are in Iraq and Afghanistan? The only difference is, unlike Iraq and Afghanistan, the US never declared war against Palestine. By one estimate, nearly 60,000 illegal settlers in Palestine come from the US. That is nearly triple the number of US armed forces in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Meanwhile, more and more reports are revealing that US citizens are actively taking part in the Israeli armed forces, potentially committing crimes against humanity and war crimes. These are, of course, facts that pale in comparison to the unwavering financial and military support Israel continues tor receive from American taxpayers.
Two: Palestinian reliance on Arab leaders is overrated.
Though the resolution is the product of a year-long consultation process with many leaders, including Arab governments, it was non-Arab governments that came to Palestine’s aid when Egypt decided to withdraw its support. The reality is that Palestinian history is fraught with disappointment and frustration at Arab’s abuse and manipulation of their cause. Egypt’s withdrawal is just another reminder.
Three: UN resolutions are not necessarily effective.
The UN has passed numerous resolutions on the Question of Palestine. Little, however, has changed on the ground. Rashid Khalidi, Editor of the Journal of Palestine Studies, said “punitive action against Israel for its decades of flagrantly illegal behavior would be necessary” to make UN resolutions effective. According to him, this resolution provides the opportunity and the international legal justification for such action because it mandates countries to “distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967.” Though the resolution doesn’t specifically set out to explain how countries would distinguish between Palestine and its occupier, this could be done using “sanctions by states, public boycott of settlement products, or private, union, foundation and university divestment from companies that support the theft and colonization of Palestinian land,” Khalidi added.
It is unclear whether this resolution, like many others, will come to fruition on the ground in Palestine. But, one thing is certain: the US and Palestine are on a collision course.