The US blocked on Wednesday an attempt by United Nations member states to get the UN Security Council (UNSC) to formally condemn Israel’s demolition of Palestinian homes in the occupied East Jeruslaem town of Sur Bahir earlier this week.
Prior to Israel’s demolition of the 10 buildings, most of which were in PA-controlled areas of the town, UN officials had joined the chorus of international leaders and rights groups calling on Israel to halt its plans.
Despite the repeated calls to stand down, Israel demolished the 10 buildings, displacing dozens of Palestinians, in what rights groups have said amounts to forcible transfer of civilian populations in an occupied territory, defined under international law as a war crime.
On Tuesday, Kuwait, Indonesia and South Africa reportedly circulated a five-paragraph draft statement to the 15 members of the UNSC condemning the demolitions and its political repercussions, according to Reuters.
Reuters, whose reporters saw the unreleased statement, said the draft “expressed grave concern” over the situation, warning that the demolition campaign “undermines the viability of the two-state solution and the prospect for a just and lasting peace.”
Citing unnamed diplomats, Reuters reported that on Wednesday, the US told the council that it “could not support” the text of the initial draft. When a revised three-paragraph was later presented to the council, the US again said “ it did not agree with the text.”
Without the unanimous support of all council members, the statement could not be released.
The US decision to block the statement came amidst a relative silence from American officials on the demolitions in Sur Bahir, which drew condemnation from Canada, the EU, and the Arab League.
The only high-profile official to address the situation was US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman in a series of tweets deeming the demolitions and the backlash against them as “fake news.”
Ben is right. Palestinians deserve self-determination and statehood just like their neighbors, not destruction of their property and indefinite military occupation of their land. This has to stop! https://t.co/60pDhmWdzg
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) July 22, 2019
In response to tweets from Rep. Ilhan Omar and former Obama speechwriter condemning the demolitions, Friedman tweeted:
“Fake News: Obama Deputy NSA Ben Rhodes tweets that Palestinian homes destroyed this week by Israel solely for racist motivations.
Faker News: Rhodes’ lie immediately endorsed by Congresswoman Ilhan Omar.”
Real News: Demolition authorized as to some but not all illegal structures on national security grounds by the highly regarded Israeli High Court of Justice after seven years of legal proceedings. Yet another phony charge of racism.
— David M. Friedman (@USAmbIsrael) July 23, 2019
Failing to mention that most of the homes were actually built on PA-controlled land, Friedman went on to claim that the criticisms were “yet another phony charge of racism,” justifying the demolition of the “illegal structures” because they were authorized by the “highly regarded” Israeli Supreme Court.
Rights groups in Israel and Palestine have long criticized the Israeli court system, including the supreme court, for upholding the racist and discriminatory housing and zoning policies imposed by the Israeli occupation on Palestinians in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
International consensus: who stands where?
While the US was blocking any condemnations of the Israeli government’s actions in East Jerusalem, Palestinian Ambassador Riyad Mansour addressed the UNSC, imploring the council to “alleviate the human suffering, to salvage peace prospects and to contribute to making that peace a reality.”
During his remarks, Mansour called attention to the case of Sur Bahir, calling the demolitions “deliberate and systematic in nature,” which he said “constitute gross violations” of international charters and agreements.
“This is a blatant act of ethnic cleansing and forced transfer, tantamount to a war crime, and it must be fully condemned and prosecuted as such,” Mansour said.
Throughout his statements, he made several references to the Trump administration’s so-called peace efforts in the region, calling out US officials for their disregard of international law.
“As we’ve heard from Israel’s representative and more recently from its staunchest supporter in the Council, there are those who deride these principles and values as ‘things of the past’ or mere ‘slogans’ and who are blatantly dismissive of Palestinian rights,” Mansour said, referring to US envoy’s Jason Greenblatt and Jared Kushner’s “anti-traditional” approach to peace talks.
Mansour pressed on, asking the room — where Greenblatt was also present — “Is this the ‘better life’ that some US administration officials claiming to seek peace speak of?”
“Is this the future touted by the failed, so-called ‘Peace to Prosperity’ workshop convened last month, which neglected to even minimally acknowledge the root causes of this conflict, the reality of a half-century occupation, and the basic rights of the Palestinian people?,” he asked.
Following Mansour’s statements, Greenblatt addressed the council, focusing on what he called the “fictions of international consensus.”
While he did not make any mention of Sur Bahir, Greenblatt did reference Palestinian claims to East Jerusalem as the future capital of their state, saying “let’s remember, an aspiration is not a right.”
Despite the previous statements made by Mansour and Under-Secretary-General Rosemary Di-Carlo invoking international law, UN resolutions, and international consensus as the essential foundation for Israeli-Palestinian peace, Greenblatt totally rejected that notion.
He criticized past UN resolutions on Palestine as “vague,” saying “international consensus is not international law. So let’s stop kidding ourselves.”