The United States’ abstention from voting on the UN security council’s anti-settlement resolution is a serious blow to prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s policy of annexation in the West Bank. The bureau of Israel’s prime minister said that “Israel rejects the contemptible, anti-Israel UN resolution and will not subordinate itself to it.” The decision to abstain from voting is the first openly critical and possibly effective action ever taken by the US against Israeli policy. It came too late, however, to be of any long-term significance and is unlikely to advance the prospect of peace in the region.
Israel reacted by threatening sanctions against New Zealand and Senegal, the two countries that pushed for the resolution, and called on their ambassadors for negotiations on a resolution. The other two states that pushed for this resolution were Venezuela and Malaysia, but they have no diplomatic ties with Israel and therefore were immune from Israeli reproach.
Netanyahu’s bureau lambasted president Barack Obama for not vetoing the resolution, stating that “the Obama administration not only failed to protect Israel against this gang-up at the UN, it colluded with it behind the scenes. Israel looks forward to working with president-elect Donald Trump and with all our friends in congress—republicans and democrats alike—to negate the harmful effects of this absurd resolution.”
In an unusual move, the White House laid the blame on Israel, saying that Netanyahu’s settlement policy is responsible for the passing of the UN security council resolution on settlements. Predictably Trump, with his characteristic insouciance, said that “things will be different after 20 January.”
In Israel, Meretz’s leader Zehava Gal-On broke from the government line by saying she was happy the US abstained. She said the resolution was, in effect, “against the policy of annexation and settlement construction, and not against Israel.” She added that the resolution was “the direct result of the law to legalise settlements, with Israel having lost all its shame and the world having lost its patience.”
The UN resolution on settlements states that to achieve a two-state solution through negotiations, three important things must be agreed upon.
Firstly, the establishment of Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, has no legal basis and constitutes a flagrant violation of international law. These settlements are a major obstacle to achieving a two-state solution and just and lasting peace.
Secondly, the resolution demands Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem.
Thirdly, Israel must also reject any changes made to the 4 June lines other than those agreed upon by the concerned parties through negotiations.
Shortly after the UN security council vote, president Obama’s senior adviser Ben Rhodes explained why the US had not vetoed the resolution. He said that the US abstention should surprise no one, especially Israel’s prime minister, adding that the resolution was Netanyahu’s personal failure.
The US’ abstention on the settlement issue is an important one that, if history has shown anything, will not necessarily change Israel’s policy of annexation, and hence, the possibility of a two-state solution. The Netanyahu government should realise that not recognising Palestinian rights goes contrary to Israel’s own interest for peace in the region.
In 2012, I met the late Stéphane Hessel, a French ambassador and member of the French Resistance under Nazi occupation. He was also the author of “Indignez-vous!” (Time for Outrage!), an essay mainly addressed to today’s youth, on what he considered should be their activism for human rights. He was in New York as member of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine, which was highly critical of Israeli actions against the Palestinians. I asked him how, being a Jew, he was so respectful of Palestinian rights. He gave me the best answer I could possibly imagine. “Because I love Israel,” he told me.
Cesar Chelala is a New York writer and winner of several journalism awards.