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Too Little, Too Late for U.S. Decision on Settlements

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The United States ’ abstention on the UN Security Council (UNSC) anti-settlement resolution is a serious blow to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s policy of annexation in the West Bank . Israel ’s Prime Minister Bureau stated that, “ Israel rejects the contemptible, anti-Israel UN resolution and will not subordinate itself to it.” This action, the first openly critical and possibly effective one on Israel ’s policy came, however, too late to be of long-term significance and will not probably advance the prospects for peace in the region.

Israel ’s government immediately reacted stating that it will impose sanctions on the two states that pushed for the resolution, New Zealand and Senegal , and ordered their ambassadors for consultation. However, the Israeli government couldn’t take a similar action against the two other states that called for a vote on the resolution – Venezuela and Malaysia , since it doesn’t have diplomatic ties with them.

The Prime Minister’s Bureau lambasted President Barak Obama for not vetoing the resolution stating, “The Obama administration not only failed to protect Israel against this gang-up at the UN, it colluded with it behind the scenes. 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.”

In an unusual move, the White House laid the responsibility of this action on the Israeli government stating that Netanyahu’s settlement policy is responsible for the passing of the UNSC resolution on settlements. Predictably, president-elect Donald Trump, with his characteristic insouciance, said that “Things will be different after January 20.”

In Israel, Meretz’s leader, Zehava Galon, broke with that government line and said that she was happy at the U.S.’s abstention, since the resolution was, in effect, “against the policy of annexation and settlement and not against Israel,” adding that the resolution was “the direct result of the law to legalize settlements, with Israel having lost all its shame and the world having lost its patience.”

In its three first paragraphs the UN resolution on settlements clearly states that to achieve a two-state solution through negotiations on the ground it,

1. Reaffirms that the establishment by Israel of settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, 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;

2. Reiterates its demand that Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem , and that it fully respect all of its legal obligations in this regard;

3. Underlines that it will not recognize any changes to the 4 June lines, including with regard to Jerusalem, other than those agreed by the parties through negotiations.

Shortly after the UNSC vote, President Barak Obama’s senior adviser Ben Rhodes explained why the U.S. had not vetoed the resolution on the settlements saying that the U.S. abstention should surprise no one, especially Israel ’s Prime Minister, saying that UNSC Resolution on settlements 2334 was Netanyahu’s personal failure.

The U.S. ’s abstention on the settlement issue is an important one that, if history is correct, will not necessarily change Israel ’s policy of annexation, and hence the possibility of a two-state solution. The Netanyahu government should realize that not recognizing Palestinian rights goes contrary to Israel ’s own interest for peace in the region.

In 2012, I met the late Stéphane Hessel, French Ambassador and member of the French Resistance. He was also the author of “Indignez-vous!” (Time for Outrage!), an essay mainly addressed to today’s youth, on what he considered should be their activism for human rights. He was in New York as member of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine , which was highly critical of Israeli actions against the Palestinians. I asked him how, being a Jew, he was so respectful of Palestinian rights. He gave me the best answer I could possibly imagine. “Because I love Israel ,” he told me.

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Dr. Cesar Chelala is a co-winner of the 1979 Overseas Press Club of America award for the article “Missing or Disappeared in Argentina: The Desperate Search for Thousands of Abducted Victims.”

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