The last week of this year was interesting for US-Israel-Palestinian relations. On December 23, the United Nations Security Council unanimously passed a resolution stating that the Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories, occupied in 1967, has no international legal standing under the Geneva Convention. It was the first time in nearly 40 years that the UNSC has passed a resolution critical of Israeli settlements.
To be sure, 14 of the 15 members of the UNSC voted in favor with a only one permanent member, the US, in abstention. Similarly measures in the past, however symbolic, have been categorically vetoed by the US. This UNSC resolution, like many other vetoed ones, is nothing more than a diplomatic and symbolic international measure of UN consensus, recognising the illegality of the settlement policy. Israel, however, is completely free to just ignore this resolution. But this has resurfaced an issue that was kept under wraps for a long time in Washington and in the UN, with a complacent Israel certain that the US would veto any such move.
The presence of the Western Hall in East Jerusalem, considered to be the most important religious place in Judaism, gives Israel slight more international acknowledgement for authority over this area. These Jewish communities in West Bank and East Jerusalem, which were captured by Israel in the 6-day 1967 war, have been rapidly and dangerously growing these last few decades. This has been diluting any real possibility of Israeli withdrawal from West Bank, threatening any slim chance of negotiated peace.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, in his long speech, was unusually blunt in his tone and demeanour in stating that “Israel can either be Jewish or democratic – It can never be both.” He also rebuked the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s extreme-right pro-settlement policies, which threaten the future possibility of an Israel-Palestine two-state solution. Israel’s policies in West Bank, one of demolitions, expropriation, refusal of construction permits for Palestinians – consolidating their occupation of a disputed territory.
The Obama administration has been extremely careful in conveying to the American and the Israeli people a distinction between support for Israel’s security and legitimacy on the one hand, and opposition to Israel’s settlements and occupation on the other, and a refusal to conflate those two things. Kerry also recognized vividly the reality of the Palestinian suffering. He just fell short of stating the obvious to Israel, they are no longer committed to a two-state solution.
Netanyahu has been particularly aggressive these past few years in normalising these settlements, as if taking for granted that the world would just look away. It seems like he thought that the international community would passively accept the occupation and settlements over a period of time. Recently, he had signed the biggest ever military aid package from any US President – a sign that Obama wouldn’t do something unusual. Last week’s resolution was a jolt for Netanyahu and his likes, not only for its affirmation of Israeli flagrant violation of international law but also since it gives Palestinian people some measure of comfort that the world still has a consensus around a two state solution.
The international consensus to resolve this conflict, right from the 1970s, has been around a two-state solution. The UNSC resolution, the message by the Obama administration – Kerry, in particular – illustrates that Israel has exacerbated the conflict by trying to work around that consensus, one that it says is its stated goal. However late and however non-binding this resolution might be, it is a recognition of unilateral wrongdoing of devastating proportions.