It’s hard to find a reasoned and balanced response to the decision of the UN Security Council defining Israeli settlements as illegal, and especially the departure of the US from its traditional posture of vetoing items defined as anti-Israel.
Netanyahu has been cursing Obama, punishing minor players who voted against Israel with a cessation of aid (Senegal) canceling a visit of a national leader (Ukraine), or recalling Israel’s Ambassador for consultations (New Zealand).
The Prime Minister accuses the US President of working to initiate the resolution after Egypt had withdrawn its proposal. One of the senior Likud MKs has spoken about the American “stab in the back.”
Israelis are worried about further steps by Obama-Kerry, along with the French, at an international conference they may squeak in before the nomination of Donald Trump.
Parliamentarians of Likud and Jewish Home are demanding an annexation to Israel of some or all of the West Bank, , and a cancellation of the Oslo Accords.
Americans close to Obama, and Israeli opposition politicians are blaming Netanyahu for the US decision. They say that he forced it on Obama by a stubborn refusal to work toward useful negotiations, and especially in evading decisions of the Israeli Supreme Court about the tiny settlement of Amona.
Some opposition Israel politicians condemned the US as well as Netanyahu. They accused Obama of undermining whatever chances there were to promote useful negotiations.
Palestinians celebrated the decision, which they say reinforces the justice of their long standing claims against Israel.
Ha’aretz ridiculed the Prime Minister’s refusal to accept responsibility for what happened in the Security Council, along with his punishment of Senegal and other minor players. One commentator asked how the Prime Minister would punish the US, Britain, France, Russia and China for their actions or inactions with respect to the resolution. Another demanded that Netanyahu resign due to his poisoning of Israel’s most important relationship with the United States.
Donald Trump weighed in with a tweet, that the decision “will make it much harder to negotiate peace. Too bad, but we will get it done anyway!”
All told, it was an opportunity for politicians, commentators, and activists to express what they have been saying for some time, along with an effort to justify and tweak their postures with respect what happened, or did not happen, was said, or was not said by others in the Security Council.
The wording of the Security Council resolution, and the statement of the US Ambassador meant to explain the abstention, stand alongside the political blather. For those who bother to read them, they may calm fears that anything drastic, or perhaps anything, will happen as a result.
The resolution reaffirms a long list of previous resolutions that haven’t had measurable impacts. It says that settlement activities beyond the 1967 lines are illegal until they are affirmed by negotiations between the parties, and calls on Israel to
“immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, and . . . (to) fully respect all of its legal obligations in this regard.”
Note the absence of a demand that Israel withdraw settlements or move settlers.
The language of the resolution, and even more clearly the comments of the US Ambassador, can be read as balanced . They condemn violence and incitement of violence against civilians, and put the emphasis on both parties to reach agreement via negotiations. The UN Ambassador was explicit in citing the Palestinians for violence and incitement, while the Security Council resolution can be read to say the same.
No doubt the resolution adds incrementally, especially on account of the US abstention, to the weight of international sentiment against Israeli settlements. Yet the resolution and associated comments qualify for the label of symbolic expressions, rather than anything explicitly operative.
Chances are that nothing will come of the blather, marked by just about everyone reaffirming existing positions from over the course of years (70 since Israel’s inception, 50 since the 1967 war, or the eight of the Obama Administration) that have failed to resolve the issues of Israel and Palestine.
One can guess, without any more certainty than that word suggests, about the following possibilities in the coming months.
There may be a continuation of accusatory language, and no practical moves toward negotiations between Israel and Palestine. With political tempers heated, it will be all that reasonable Israelis can do to hold off provocative actions from the right–most likely without any meaningful changes on the ground–that will add steam to international condemnations,
Hopefully, neither Palestinian nor Israeli extremists will act in ways to upset the accommodations that allow almost all people of both communities to co-exist despite their politicians.
Israelis may remind themselves that the Oslo Accords give Palestinians the opportunity to govern their cities, without Israelis being responsible for their education, health, or policing.
Palestinians benefit from more than the 100,000 who support themselves and their families by going to Israeli daily for work, Israeli officials had been talking about opening the borders with Gaza for Palestinian workers.
If Palestinian activists are encouraged by the Security Council resolution to move from demonstrations to significant violence, history suggests that Israel’s response will not only be greater violence, but an end to those work permits, and the replacement ofPalestinians with Bulgarians, Romanians, Chinese, and other workers from various countries in South Asia.
Uncertainties associated with the Trump election will reinforce those associated with this Security Council resolution.
The President-elect has criticized Obama’s failure to veto the resolution, and has promised significant change in the posture of his government toward Israel. Yet he may also have ideas and aspirations to remake this part of the Middle East. He has appointed an adviser to take charge of efforts to bring the parties together.
As always, we must remind ourselves that uncertainty means just what it says.
Reprinted with author’s permission from The Jerusalem Post