Israeli settlements

Israel’s isolation

Print edition : February 03, 2017

Palestinian protesters facing the Israeli settlement of Qadumim (Kedumim) during clashes with Israeli security forces following a demonstration against the expropriation of Palestinian land by Israel in the village of Kfar Qaddum in the West Bank on December 30, 2016. Photo: JAAFAR ASHTIYEH/AFP

Benjamin Netanyahu pledged to impose a "diplomatic and economic price" on the countries that voted in favour of the resolution. Photo: Dan Balilty/AP

In the first serious condemnation of Israel by the international community in eight years, a U.N. Security Council resolution holds the establishment of Jewish settlements in the occupied territories illegal.

IN the last week of December, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) adopted Resolution 2334 reaffirming that the Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem were illegal. The United States this time did not veto the resolution. A similar resolution was vetoed by the Barack Obama administration in 2011 despite the U.S. characterising itself as “an honest peace broker” in the Israel-Palestine dispute and terming the settlements “illegal”. The U.S. has, in fact, been indirectly subsidising some of the illegal settlement activity. The Israeli army, which protects the settlers and represses Palestinians, is the recipient of the largest tranche of U.S. military aid worldwide.

This was the first serious condemnation of Israel by the international community in the past eight years. Under George W. Bush, six similar UNSC resolutions were allowed to pass. During the single term of George H.W. Bush, nine resolutions critical of Israel were passed in the UNSC. The latest UNSC resolution described the establishment of Israeli settlements as “a major obstacle” to peace and “a flagrant violation under international law” that was “dangerously imperilling the viability of a two-state solution”. The resolution also demanded that Israel “immediately and completely cease all construction activities in the occupied Palestinian territories, including Jerusalem”. There are at present 196 illegal Israeli settlements on the West Bank along with hundreds of settler outposts located on strategic points. The Jerusalem municipality recently announced that 300 more housing units would be built on the illegally occupied land.

The U.S.’ decision not to veto Resolution 2334 was a parting kick from the Obama administration. President Obama had treated Israel with kid gloves for the past eight years despite open provocations from the Benjamin Netanyahu government. The current Israeli government, the most right wing so far in the country’s history, not only ignored Washington’s advice to halt the construction of settlements on occupied Palestinian territory but also started snubbing senior Obama administration officials, including Secretary of State John Kerry. There was of course no love lost between Obama and Netanyahu. The long-serving Israeli Prime Minister had gone to the unprecedented extent of backing Obama’s rival, Mitt Romney, in the 2012 American elections and lobbying with the U.S. Congress personally against the nuclear deal the U.S. President was about to sign with Iran.

Leading lights in the Israeli government joyously welcomed the victory of Donald Trump. The Republican President-elect had on the campaign trail openly advertised his support for the government led by Netanyahu and his policies towards the Palestinians. Trump gives the impression that he is determined to shift the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem despite the opposition from the Palestinians and the international community. If the U.S. embassy is shifted, it will give legitimacy to Israel’s claim over the holy city. East Jerusalem is the designated capital of an independent state of Palestine.

Netanyahu has described Trump as “a true friend of Israel”. Israel’s Education Minister Naftali Bennet said that the election of Trump would give Israel “a unique opportunity to reset and rethink everything”. Bennet has been advocating the annexation of over 60 per cent of the occupied West Bank. “The era of the Palestinian state is over,” Bennet said after Trump’s victory was announced. Trump has appointed a pro-settlement hardliner and avowed Zionist, David Friedman, his ambassador to the Jewish state. Friedman has supported the annexation of the West Bank and is opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state. He has described Jerusalem as the “holy capital of the Jewish people and only the Jewish people”. Jerusalem is among the most sacred and hallowed places for Muslims as well as Christians.

Frantic lobbying

Trump had called on the Obama administration to veto the UNSC resolution. Before that the Israeli government had lobbied frantically with key UNSC members to shelve the resolution condemning the creeping annexation of the West Bank. At the eleventh hour, following a telephone conversation between Trump and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Egypt, which is an elected member of the UNSC, withdrew the draft resolution it had sponsored. According to reports in the Israeli media, Netanyahu also convinced the Russian government to go along with the Egyptian government’s decision to postpone the tabling of the resolution. Egypt had absented itself in the U.N. General Assembly during a vote to condemn alleged war crimes committed in Syria by Russia and its allies.

Russia eventually voted for the resolution, which passed 14 to 0, with the U.S. abstaining. The other non-permanent members in the UNSC, Malaysia, Venezuela, Senegal and New Zealand, did not yield to the intense lobbying from Israel. These countries told Egypt that they would press ahead with the reinstatement of the resolution regardless of the stance adopted by Egypt. Israel had warned New Zealand and Senegal, with which it has close relations, to desist from tabling the resolution. Netanyahu, who also holds the Foreign Minister’s portfolio, made phone calls to New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully saying that tabling the resolution was akin to a “declaration of war” and that he could even go to the extent of closing down Israel’s embassy in Wellington.

According to reports appearing in the Israeli media, New Zealand was encouraged to table the resolution by the British government with the tacit approval of the Obama administration. After the resolution was passed, Netanyahu pledged to impose a “diplomatic and economic price” on the countries that voted in favour of the resolution. He ordered that “working ties” be limited with 12 of the 14 countries that supported the resolution, recalling the country’s ambassadors from New Zealand and Senegal. Venezuela and Malaysia have no diplomatic links with Israel. Netanyahu ordered the cancellation of aid projects to Senegal, including a “drip irrigation project” that was part of “the fight against poverty in Africa”. The Israeli Prime Minister also announced the cancellation of his country’s contribution to U.N. institutions deemed “particularly hostile to Israel”.Netanyahu and his senior Ministers have accused Obama of orchestrating “the ganging up” against Israel at the U.N. At the same time, the Israeli Prime Minister has gleefully accepted the record-breaking $38 billion military aid package the Obama administration has bestowed on the country. Samantha Power, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., made it a point to remind the UNSC that Israel received a tremendous amount of U.S. military aid. She said that the U.S. had chosen not to veto the resolution this time because Israeli settlement activity had increased dramatically and had put the two-state solution in jeopardy.

‘Too little, too late’

Welcoming the resolution, Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian Ambassador to the U.N., said that in reality the action “may be too little, too late”. He said the resolution could turn out to be “the last attempt to preserve the two-state solution and revive the path for peace”. Saeb Erekat, the veteran Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) negotiator, urged Israel to seize the opportunity that the latest UNSC resolution had provided. He said that this was the time for Israel “to stop the violence, to stop settlements and to resume negotiations”.

The passage of the resolution has served as a wake-up call for the Israeli government. Netanyahu was seemingly under the impression that the international community would keep on looking the other way as Israel accelerated its settlement programme and in the process buried the two-state solution to the conflict. It is also a reminder to the Jewish state that without the support of the U.S., it stands isolated in the international arena despite Tel Aviv’s claims to the contrary. The UNSC resolution will also give a fillip to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement targeting the apartheid policies being pursued by Israel. A recent opinion poll conducted by the Brookings Institution has shown that two-thirds of Americans favour U.N. resolutions demanding a halt to settlements and that the majority of Americans who vote for the Democrats support the imposition of sanctions on Israel to bring about a two-state solution.

The BDS movement is already strong in North America and in many parts of Europe. Civil society groups, trade unions and university campuses all over the world are beginning to take a stand against Israeli occupation and the apartheid policies that have been put in place to control Palestinians. The Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), an Israeli think tank affiliated to Tel Aviv University, has published a report which states that “Israel’s image in Western countries continues to decline, a trend that enhances the ability of hostile groups to engage in action aimed at depriving Israel of political and moral legitimacy and launch boycotts”. The report by the INSS says that liberals in America were displaying “a greater inclination to view the Palestinian plight as analogous to apartheid”. This sentiment, the report adds, fuels more support for the BDS movement.

The year-end UNSC resolution has once again brought the issue of Palestine to the front burner. As many as 248 Palestinians were killed between October 2015 and December 2016. Most of them were shot by Israeli security forces. And 33 children were killed in the West Bank in the past year. Only one Israeli soldier has so far been held guilty on manslaughter charges since the recent round of violence erupted in late 2015.

A military court’s decision to send the soldier Elor Azaria to jail has invited criticism from Netanyahu and senior members of the Israeli Cabinet. They have even appealed to the Israeli President to pardon Azaria, who shot an injured Palestinian in cold blood and that too in full public view.

On January 8, a Palestinian resident of Jerusalem drove a truck into a group of Israeli soldiers, killing four and injuring many more. Palestinians, many of them armed only with knives, have been targeting Israelis for more than a year. Revenge attacks by Palestinians have resulted in the death of 40 Israelis and two Americans. Palestinians attribute these attacks to 50 years of Israeli occupation.

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