The UN's Recent Anti-Settlement Resolution Doesn’t Matter
On December 23, 2016, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution condemning Israeli construction of settlements on Palestinian territory beyond the 1967 border, often referred to as the “Green Line.” The resolution, passed with 14 states in favor and one abstention from the United States, describes the settlements as illegal and a clear violation of international law. Despite nearly unanimous support, the resolution remains highly controversial.
At the forefront of such controversy is the United States’ decision to abstain and how this could affect relations with Israel. Another major controversy is the resolution’s inclusion of East Jerusalem as occupied territory. To many in Israel, the abstention solidifies widespread public opinion that the Obama administration is anti-Israeli and continues a long trend of Israel being unfairly singled out in the United Nations. However, despite critics’ views that the resolution itself is egregious and that the abstention is a damaging departure from U.S. foreign policy tradition, the resolution is unlikely to have a significant impact on its relationship with the United States or the settlement enterprise itself.
UNSC 2334 may have some symbolic importance, but it is unlikely that it will actually encourage Israel to halt the building of settlements. Without tangible enforcement measures, resolutions such as this one are often forgotten, joining a paper trail of documents that are rarely used except to pass new resolutions about the same issue. In line with this trend, UNSC 2334 condemns Israeli settlements beyond the Green Line, but doesn’t include any enforcement measures listed under Chapter 7 of the United Nations Charter, such as sanctions.
UNSC 2334 is the product of a larger Palestinian strategy of undermining Israel through international solidarity with their right to self determination. This strategy, which is responsible for other actions such as the BDS movement, has had serious effects on Israel’s reputation. Resolutions such as this one have reputational costs for Israel and can affect legitimacy, but such costs only go so far. Beyond the fact that there are no tangible consequences for Israel, the resolution is easily seen as yet another hypocritical resolution that unfairly singles them out.
The sentiment that Israel is discriminated against in the UN is widely held by Israel and its supporters. Even former Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has spoken out against this bias. Israel’s permanent representative to the UN, Danny Danon, responded to Ki-Moon saying, “During this time the UN passed 223 resolutions condemning Israel, while only eight resolutions condemning the Syrian regime as it has massacred its citizens over the past six years. This is absurd.” The resolution was intended to push Israel to take steps to stop building settlements on Palestinian land. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that the Israeli will see it as legitimate when they have so little faith in the credibility of the UN itself.
Critics of the Obama administration see his administration’s decision to abstain as a hasty, immature move meant to spite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Obama is immensely unpopular in Israel. In a recent survey published in the Jewish Journal, 63 percent of Israelis rated President Barack Obama as the worst U.S. president for Israel in the past 30 years. One of the biggest reasons for this is his insistence on negotiating the Iranian Nuclear Deal in 2015 which Israel vehemently opposed, claiming that Iran is an existential threat to Israel. However, President Obama’s administration treated Israel similarly to all of his recent predecessors. Contrary to popular belief, this is far from the first time that the United States has abstained from important Israel resolutions, nor is this the first time the United States has blatantly gone against Israel’s wishes when it serves U.S. interests.
U.S. abstention is actually fairly common regarding Israel resolutions. While this resolution has been sensationalized in the press and lauded as “unprecedented,” an almost identical resolution was passed in 1979 after U.S. abstention under the Carter Administration. Ronald Reagan’s and George W. Bush’s Administrations, both conservative, abstained from UNSCR 605 and 1515, respectively, which were similar to the previous resolution from which Carter abstained. George Bush Senior went so far as to reject loan guarantees to Israel due to their continued settlement expansion.
In addition to this, there is little evidence that President Obama is anti-Israeli. His administration vetoed and abstained from many anti-Israel UN resolutions, such as a similar anti-settlement resolution put forth in the security council in 2011. Under the Obama administration, a historic $38 billion aid package to Israel was also approved. While Obama’s relationship with Netanyahu was far from close, the U.S. abstention looks much more like a disagreement between friends than an act of betrayal. Additionally, regardless of one’s opinion of Obama and his legacy regarding Israel, any effects he has had on U.S.-Israel relations will be short-lived given the Trump administration’s vocal support of Israel and commitment to defending the country against unfair scrutiny in the UN.
Although the resolution may be ineffective in curbing settlement expansion, it does reflect the sense of urgency felt by many worldwide to end Israel’s military occupation of the Palestinian Territories. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the beginning of an occupation that was always meant to be temporary, but that has become a painful, costly and oppressive status quo. Israelis may disagree with the resolution, but if they are serious about peace and a two-state solution with the Palestinians, they will have to make sacrifices to achieve it. Otherwise, they will continue to face more isolation and see the erosion of their democracy as they continue to act as an occupying power.
Despite increasingly cynical rhetoric from every side of the conflict, the two-state solution isn’t dead. In fact, a majority of people on either side of the conflict still support it. According to the Jerusalem Post, a moderate Israeli news agency, 51 percent of Palestinians and 59 percent of Israelis continue to back the two-state solution, albeit not based on the parameters of earlier, failed negotiations. Although statistics on this issue vary, the data in this article provides strong evidence that if the Israeli government and appropriate Palestinian factions worked toward this type of solution, civilians on both sides would potentially back it.
As of now, the combination of Trump’s Administration taking office and the Anti-Settlement resolution seem only to have emboldened the Israeli government, with recent news that 2,500 new homes will be constructed in the West Bank and a new bill legalizing settlement outposts slated for a final vote in the Knesset this week. However, these types of actions will only worsen the problems the Israelis find themselves in today; such actions will erode both security and democracy while continuing to alienate both Allies and the Jewish Community worldwide.
Meanwhile, it would behoove the Palestinians to adopt a more pragmatic strategy in seeking their autonomy. Strategies that only seek to name and shame Israel offer no prospect for pragmatic solutions. While the Palestinians see Israel as illegitimate and believe that morality is on their side, more meaningful improvement to people’s lives could be made by coming to the bargaining table and trying to work things out, especially given that Israel sees Palestinian refusal to recognize them as a Jewish state as one of the biggest obstacles to striking a lasting peace deal.
Photo: “Jerusalem,” Originally taken by Neufal54 with a CC license. Use of this photo does not indicate an endorsement from its creator.