Today the United States abstained on a United Nations Security Council resolution demanding Israel end settlement construction in Occupied Palestine, allowing the resolution to pass with spontaneous cheers. The resolution is historic, and represents the strongest rebuke President Obama has made of Israeli policy in his entire administration.
— NZ Mission to the UN (@NZUN) December 23, 2016
Many speakers said they were acting because the two-state solution is slipping away. The last time the UNSC adopted a resolution on Israeli settlements was in 1980.
“That the Council has finally chosen to act is significant, after years of paralysis,” said Riyad Mansour of Palestine. He said the measure, sponsored by Malaysia, Venezuela, New Zealand and Senegal, is a “last attempt” to revive the two-state solution and may be “too little, too late.”
Secretary of State John Kerry later echoed that concern in a statement:
Today, the United States acted with one primary objective in mind: to preserve the possibility of the two state solution, which every U.S. administration for decades has agreed is the only way to achieve a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
In a strong speech following her abstention, Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the UN, quoted Ronald Reagan saying in 1982 that an immediate settlement freeze by Israel would be the most important factor in allowing peace talks to proceed. So nothing has changed in 34 years. And for five decades US presidents of both parties have opposed Israeli colonization.
The settlement problem has gotten so much worse that it is now putting at risk the very viability of that two-state solution… The total settler population in the West Bank and East Jerusalem now exceeds 590,000….
In 2011, the United States vetoed a resolution that focused exclusively on settlements… Since 2011, settlement growth has only accelerated. Since 2011, multiple efforts to pursue peace through negotiations have failed. And since 2011, President Obama and Secretary Kerry have repeatedly warned – publically and privately – that the absence of progress toward peace and continued settlement expansion was going to put the two-state solution at risk
She took a shot at Netanyahu.
The Israeli Prime Minister recently described his government as “more committed to settlements than any in Israel’s history”… At the same time, the Prime Minister has said that he is still committed to pursuing a two-state solution. But these statements are irreconcilable… One has to make a choice between settlements and separation.
The British ambassador, Matthew Rycroft, said the resolution was “a sober recognition that the two-state solution is slipping away.” Malaysia said the world has a “legal, political and moral responsibility… to act.” Japan said that it was “alarmed” by the apparent end of the two-state solution.
Donald Trump had a careful response.
House Speaker Paul Ryan promptly called the US action “absolutely shameful” and vowed that “our unified Republican government” will work to undo the U.S. stance.
Ryan was one of many who saw the vote as a basis for activism– such as Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS)– against Israel.
Today’s vote… sets a dangerous precedent for further diplomatic efforts to isolate and demonize Israel.
Extremely frustrating, disappointing & confounding that the Administration has failed to veto the UN resolution.
The Anti Defamation League said it is “deeply troubled” by the Obama administration’s failure to veto. The Israel lobby group AIPAC said it is “deeply disturbed” by Obama’s action on the “ruinous resolution” and it pivoted to Trump:
AIPAC is deeply disturbed by the failure of the Obama Administration to exercise its veto to prevent a destructive, one-sided, anti-Israel resolution from being enacted by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC)….
It is particularly regrettable, in his last month in office, that the president has taken an action at odds with the bipartisan consensus in Congress and America’s long history of standing with Israel at the United Nations. AIPAC expresses its appreciation to President-elect Trump and the many Democratic and Republican Members of Congress who urged a veto of this resolution.
Israelis are also angered by the vote. In his speech to the Security Council, Israeli ambassador to the UN Danny Danon called it an “evil decree” against the “righteousness” of the Jewish claim to Jerusalem, and cited the “Holy Book,” showing 3000 years of Jewish connection to the land. Danon:
“Who gave you a right to issue such a decree denying our eternal rights to Jerusalem?… Would you ban the French from building in Paris? Would you ban the Russians from building in Moscow?”
In a fear-mongering speech prior to the vote Education Minister Naftali Bennett warned “everyone” on the Security Council “If you raise your hand or remain silent … you’re supporting the forces of terror, you’re supporting airplanes hitting buildings in New York and trucks killing people in Berlin, terror attacks in Brussels, Orlando and Dallas.”
“Whoever gathers to condemn us for building here and does nothing to fight Molotov cocktails and murder has chosen the wrong side of history. Today the battle is between good and evil and Israel stands at the forefront of the good forces with Hezbollah and ISIS in the north and Hamas in the south. We are fighting for the free world, yet the free world is gathering to condemn us…”
Human rights attorney Zaha Hassan, Coordinator and legal adviser to the Palestinian negotiating team during Palestine’s bid for UN membership and a Middle East Fellow at New America, said that today’s resolution may turn out to be President Obama’s “enduring legacy” on the Middle East:
“The UN Security Council resolution that passed today, though only reiterating legal obligations and international consensus, is incredibly significant because for more than two decades Israel has been attempting to blur the lines between what is Israel and what is the occupied West Bank through its settlement enterprise. The resolution makes clear that Israel, as an occupying power, owes the Palestinians certain obligations and all settlements, whether built in East Jerusalem or inside the West Bank, are without legal validity and in violation of international law. In other words, they are war crimes…
“This could potentially have far-reaching implications for Israel in its trade with the world and in all its financial transactions.
“The urgency of this resolution cannot be overstated in light of the incoming Trump Administration’s connection to support for settlements deep inside the occupied West Bank.
“That Obama refrained from using the US veto speaks volumes about concerns over the uncertain future of the two state solution.
“This simple act of omission–refusing to use the veto–may turn out to be Obama’s enduring legacy on Mideast peace.”
Yousef Munayyer of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights said the two-state solution has already slipped away, and the resolution is a last ditch:
“For the first time in decades, the United States has failed to use its veto on a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements. In terms of the law, this resolution changes very little. Israeli settlements have always been illegal and, in fact, the US has voted in support of Security Council resolutions that affirm this fact in the past. But the resolution’s language makes very clear that it is a desperate, last-ditch effort to save a ‘two-state solution’ by calling for an immediate cessation of Israeli settlement activity. In reality, it is far too late and no piece of paper can save something that has long been dead…
“As Donald J. Trump prepares to enter the White House along with an Israel policy that appears to be nothing short of a full embrace of… Israeli apartheid, dropping even the traditional pretense of opposition to Israel’s settlement building, we are on the verge of the international community being forced to come to terms with the reality that the two-state solution is officially and undeniably dead.
“If Trump’s presidency provides the two-state solution’s death certificate, this resolution can be looked at as the autopsy. As problematic as it was, if the two-state solution ever had a chance, its cause of death is something the international community can agree on: Israeli settlement expansion that took place for decades with the international community providing cover and support for it.”
“In the days ahead, there will no doubt be loud criticism from the usual suspects about the United States’ abstention. However, most supporters of Israel recognize the dangers posed by unbridled settlement expansion.”
The liberal Zionist group Israel Policy Forum opposed the resolution. It seems to fear the resolution will help BDS.
today’s resolution is likely to encourage further efforts to isolate Israel, and in turn harden Israeli attitudes against the United Nations, rather than serve as a constructive criticism of steps undertaken by either party which are inconsistent with the goal of two states.
Thanks to Adam Horowitz