U.S. Lets U.N. Condemn Israeli Settlements

U.S. Lets U.N. Condemn Israeli Settlements

Michael Jacobs

Atlanta Jewish Times Editor Michael Jacobs is on his second stint leading the AJT's editorial operations. He previously served as managing editor from 2005 to 2008.

The U.N. Security Council enacted a resolution Friday, Dec. 23, criticizing Israel’s settlement construction as illegal and a fundamental obstacle to a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians.

President Barack Obama’s decision to abstain allowed Resolution 2334 to pass on a 14-0 vote the day after original sponsor Egypt said it planned to withdraw the resolution to give President-elect Donald Trump a chance to try to make progress toward a peace deal.

The language used about the settlements parallels Resolution 465, passed with the support of the United States during the Carter administration in 1980, saying their establishment “has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-State solution and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace.”

The new measure also is similar to one the United States vetoed in 2011, when Obama had a re-election campaign ahead in 2012.

The resolution requires a report to the U.N. secretary-general every three months on settlement activity, and the French ambassador to the United Nations hailed the measure as the first official U.N. declaration that the settlements are an obstacle to peace.

In 13 action clauses, the new resolution repeatedly specifies that the illegality applies to any construction beyond Israel’s borders before the 1967 Six-Day War, including East Jerusalem.

The end of settlement activity is cited as the essential step to provide an opportunity for a two-state solution.

While the resolution is only advisory, it rejects any unilateral changes to the June 4, 1967, borders and urges other nations to differentiate between “the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967,” a clause that provides support to efforts to label products from the West Bank as being distinct from those made in Israel.

None of the 13 action clauses mentions the Palestinians, although one calls for the prevention of violence against civilians and the condemnation of terrorism, and another urges both sides to avoid incitement and inflammatory rhetoric and to show “through policies and actions a genuine commitment to the two-State solution.”

You can read the full text of the resolution and the related debate, including the opposition of Israeli Ambassador Danny Danon and the support of Palestinian representative Riyad Mansour.

U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power’s statement on the resolution, reiterating longstanding U.S. opposition to settlements and belief in the need for an immediate settlement freeze to restart peace talks, presented the American decision as a choice between support and abstention, with a veto not a serious consideration once language about terrorism and incitement was included.

Here’s Power’s full statement.

Secretary of State John Kerry explained in his own statement that the United States acted solely to preserve the possibility of a two-state solution.

In a 30-minute White House phone press conference shortly after the Security Council vote, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes did not say how the Obama administration believes that the resolution advances the cause of a two-state solution, nor did he suggest the next step in that direction.

Though the United States does not believe that the United Nations is the forum to debate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Rhodes said, accelerating settlement construction is such a threat that “we could not in good conscience veto a resolution that expressed concerns about the very trends that are eroding the foundation for a two-state solution.”

Rhodes made it clear that the U.S. abstention reflected Obama’s frustration at the lack of progress toward peace and at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s refusal to freeze settlements despite repeated U.S. warnings that there would be consequences.

Rhodes vehemently denied Israeli accusations that the United States orchestrated the resolution as a parting shot by Obama against Netanyahu. Rhodes said the United States waited until seeing the final text Friday to decide how to act and did not share its decision with any other U.N. delegations, leading to uncertainty about how the vote would turn out. (You can watch the vote and the Security Council celebrations.)

The one positive U.S. action mentioned in the press conference was a forthcoming speech from Kerry laying out his “comprehensive vision” for a two-state solution and how to get there. Special Mideast envoy Frank Lowenstein declined to offer any details, beyond promising that Kerry’s ideas about where to go from here are based on his four years of deep involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Most Republican and Democratic lawmakers who commented on the Obama administration action were critical, such as Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), who called the abstention “a sneaky maneuver to pass a one-sided resolution on Israel just before a new Administration takes office.”

AIPAC collected more critical statements.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) was a notable exception, defending the “strong message” sent by Obama. She said, “I believe the expansion of settlements has but one goal: “to undermine the viability of a two-state solution.”

Among the Georgia congressional delegation, Rep. David Scott (D-Atlanta) urged Obama to veto the resolution in a tweet. In a Facebook post, Rep. Jody Hice (R-Bethlehem) accused the administration of turning its back “on one of our strongest allies in the Middle East.” Rep. Doug Collins (R-Gainesville) called the abstention an “incredibly wrong-headed and damaging move” on Twitter.

Most American Jewish organizations opposed the Obama decision, including the Jewish Federations of North America, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the American Jewish Committee and AIPAC.

Among those backing the White House were J Street and the New Israel Fund.

Several news organizations offered Q&As to help understand the resolution and its effects, including CNN, Haaretz and JTA. Among other analyses:

Finally, you can follow all the developments related to this resolution at The Times of Israel.

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