Belligerence belies hopes for peace
The UN Security Council resolution that calls on Israel to cease its settlement activities on the occupied Palestinian territories can be seen as a means to bring about the elusive Arab-Israeli peace. However, given the Jewish state’s belligerent response, the ground situation is unlikely to change.
The 15-member council on December 23 voted 14-0 in favour of a resolution demanding the halt of settlement activity by Israel on occupied Palestinian territory. The resolution was put forward by New Zealand, Malaysia, Venezuela, and Senegal a day after Egypt withdrew it under pressure from Israel and US President-elect Donald Trump.
Surprisingly, at the instance of outgoing President Barack Obama the US abstained from the voting, defying pressure from Trump and lobbying by Israel, to veto the measure. It is the first resolution the Security Council adopted on Israel and the Palestinians in nearly eight years. The US abstention was a surprise as in 2011 the Obama administration had exercised its veto on a similar move.
The US decision has angered the Israeli establishment with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejecting outright the resolution terming it shameful and anti-Israel. He also announced that his government would cancel USD 7 million his country contributes to UN agencies. “Israel rejects this shameful anti-Israel resolution at the UN and will not abide by its terms,” a statement released by his office said.
“The Obama administration not only failed to protect Israel against this gang-up at the UN, but it also colluded with it behind the scenes,” it said.
“Israel looks forward to working with President-elect Trump and with all our friends in Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike to negate the harmful effects of this absurd resolution.”
Netanyahu also called in Ambassadors of the 14 countries to express his anger.
In a flagrant defiance of the international community and the UN resolution, Israel announced that it intends to endorse the construction of 5,600 new homes in the West Bank and 500 others in the predominantly Palestinian eastern section of Jerusalem.
By doing so, Israel reiterates its non-commitment to international legitimacy as well as its carelessness about the international law.
The United States' abstention was the biggest rebuke in recent history to long-standing ally Israel, allowing the Security Council to condemn its settlements and continuing construction in Palestinian territory as a "flagrant violation" of international law, Middle East observers said.
Israel has traditionally argued that it can build settlements because the status of the West Bank and East Jerusalem is undetermined and the Jewish settlers, who moved into these areas voluntarily, are not displacing Palestinians.
The observers say that Israel is shifting its population into these areas with a view to annexing them and is uprooting entire Palestinian community to provide land for colonies, as well as a route for the West Bank wall, declared illegal by the International Court of Justice in 2004.
The US abstention has somewhat affected its ties with Israel, which is hoping that Trump, who will be taking over as the 45th President of the US on January 20, will do everything in his power to restore the veto and negate the resolution.
Trump, who has already said he intends to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv, symbolically, to occupied Jerusalem, tweeted: "As to the UN, things will be different after Jan 20th."
Commentators believe that Trump’s policies could not only be met with a political-diplomatic backlash from supporters of the resolution but also could elicit a violent reaction from angry Arabs and Muslims who have also been dealing with “terrorism” in the region and elsewhere.
They also feel that US Secretary of State John Kerry’s warning towards the end of the Obama administration that Israel’s building of settlement was endangering West Asia peace is too little and too late now.
Insisting that the two-state solution is the only way to achieve peace in the Middle East, Kerry said Israel would never secure a lasting deal with Arab countries if it opted for the one-state option.
Concerns expressed by Kerry last Wednesday over the two-state solution are sadly all too real. So too is the fact that it took seven years and 11 months for the Obama administration to remember that Palestine exists.
Observers are of the view that the resolution cannot be taken off the books. It is there to stay, although it has no teeth, no mandatory sanctions if Israel ignores or defies it.
The resolution has given a boost to Arabs and Palestinians to build international pressure on Israel to comply with the resolution. They should use the resolution in international forums to press forward their case against Israel. They can also use it to press the International Criminal Court to prosecute Israeli leaders, file lawsuits on behalf of specific Palestinians displaced by settlements and, urge the international community to determine whether Israel was violating the Geneva Conventions.
The Netanyahu government has illegally sanctioned the construction of colonies in occupied East Jerusalem as state policy — seizing lands, bulldozing buildings and imposing the harshest judicial and administrative sanctions on Palestinians who dare oppose or object to the property theft.
The UN General Assembly repeatedly has and overwhelmingly condemned the Israeli action, but this is for the first time the Security Council has censured Israel for its settlement policy in Palestinian areas.
In the past weeks, the Israeli Parliament, the Knesset began the process of amending its laws to allow for the annexation of illegal outpost colonies across the West Bank, a move that has been condemned by Palestinians and the Arab world as a whole.
Palestine has described the resolution as a total rejection of extremist forces in Israel. "This is a day of victory for international law, a victory for civilised language and negotiation and a total rejection of extremist forces in Israel," said chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat. The resolution said Israel's settlements on the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, have "no legal validity."
It demanded a halt to "all Israeli settlement activities", saying this "is essential for salvaging the two-state solution". It described the settlement building as a “major obstacle” to peace.
Middle East observers view the UNSC decision as a "milestone" but feel that in all probability it would remain "ink on paper" due to Israel's long history of disregarding the international community’s will and that it does not entail measures that obligate Israel to adhere to the decision.
The resolution represents a consensus among the international community on the illegality of the Israeli settlement and affirms the historical right of Palestinians to their land, said Jordanian Minister of State for Media Affairs and Government Spokesperson Mohammad Momani in a statement.
(M Shakeel Ahmed is former Editor, PTI. He has also served as West Asia Correspondent for PTI, based in Bahrain from 1988-1995. The views expressed are personal.)