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Five takeaways: What the UN Security Council resolution means

In a 14-0 vote and with the U.S. abstaining, the UN Security Council passes a resolution reaffirming the illegality of Israeli settlements. What does it all mean, and what comes next?

U.S. Ambassador to the UN speaks following the Security Council's passing of a resolution on Israeli settlements, New York, December 23, 2016. (Screenshot from UN Web TV)

U.S. Ambassador to the UN speaks following the Security Council’s passing of a resolution on Israeli settlements, New York, December 23, 2016. (Screenshot from UN Web TV)

The UN Security Council on Friday passed a resolution condemning Israeli settlements, reaffirming their illegality, calling on Israel to cease all settlement activity, and rejecting any unilateral Israeli changes to the borders — including the annexation of East Jerusalem.

The big drama surrounding the vote was that the United States decided not to exercise its Security Council veto. The Obama administration, unlike previous administrations, had for the past eight years blocked all UNSC resolutions critical of Israel, and it was unclear how the U.S. would vote until the very last second.

What does it all mean? Why did it happen now? What comes next? Here are five quick takeaways:

1. This is far from the first UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, declaring that they are illegal, and calling on Israel to fulfill its obligations under international law vis-à-vis the occupied territories. With the exception of a few new references — to the French peace conference, for example — there is little new in the resolution. It does not introduce any new demands or interpretations of international law.

2. The key here is timing. This resolution came about because the Israeli government has become intransigent — it no longer even pretends to care about what the world thinks of its polices in the West Bank. The government is advancing a law to retroactively legalize the theft of Palestinian land. Senior ministers are declaring the end to the two-state era. Annexation of certain Israeli settlements is being seriously discussed. This was the Obama administration’s — and the international community’s — way of saying that it still cares. That despite far more pressing issues on the international agenda, the world’s position on Israel/Palestine remain steadfast.

3. In response to the threat of European (and American) pressure over settlements and Israeli policy in the West Bank, Israeli leaders have in recent years suggested that Israel does not need Europe — that it can build alternative partnerships and alliances with non-Western countries like Russia, China, India, and certain African states. This vote shows that although Israel might be able to find and develop common economic — and even strategic — interests with those countries, doing so will not make them look the other way when it comes to Israel’s settlement activities. The world’s position on Israeli settlements remains a consensus position — they are illegal and illegitimate.

4. The Security Council resolution is a clear statement that Israeli settlements and settlement activity are illegal, that the changes Israel is making in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are illegal, and calls on the parties to continue working toward the two-state solution. What it doesn’t do is lay out any consequences if Israel continues to violate international law by expanding settlements, legalizing settlements it has committed to dismantling, or even if it annexes more Palestinian territory. In other words, who’s going to do anything about it?

5. One perceivable consequence of the Security Council resolution is that it might embolden the International Criminal Court prosecutor to decide to open a formal investigation into the Israeli “war crime” of building, expanding and populating settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory. The prospect of Israeli political and military leaders facing prosecution for war crimes over their support and administration of the settlement enterprise is one of the few X-factors these days that could possibly alter the trajectory of Israel’s otherwise stable occupation of Palestine. It’s an unlikely scenario, but considering the clarity of international law on settlements — now explicitly reaffirmed by the UN Security Council — combined with the ICC’s desperate need to show that it does not only indict black African despots, it could be enough to move an investigation forward.

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    1. David

      At last, Israel’s party and free ride are coming to an end. The world has had enough. It is sickened and enraged at Israel’s 68 years of escalating crimes committed against the defenseless Palestinian Arab natives. It’s only going to get worse for Israel. Much, much worse. Jewish emigration from Israel will continue to rise and immigration will remain less than a trickle. It could only be thus.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Lewis from Afula

      The UN resolution means nothing. A parting shot from a failed President that f-ed up the US economy. When Trump starts, the Likud will increase the Yesha population to 500,000. At that point, PLO will have failed. The so called fakestines will revert to their original Jordanian identity.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Security Council Resolution 2334 is on the books. By a 14-0 vote. It permanently reaffirms and clarifies the illegality of the settlements. (And sets the stage for potential actions by the ICC. Israeli civilian and military leaders, beware.) There is nothing Trump or Israel can do to reverse it. Trump is not the king of the world. Should Trump now actively aid the settlements he will be embroiling the United States in directly defying the Security Council and violating long settled and newly re-clarified and reaffirmed international law. Which will further wrest the monopoly on this issue away from the U.S. and hand it to the Europeans. And if Trump were to go where his big mouth supporters urge him and “defund the UN” he will only further reduce America’s influence, isolate it, and forfeit American’s moral authority—going against the same resolution that the United States is on record as saying it could not in good conscience veto.

        Reply to Comment
        • i_like_ike52

          Obama also isn’t the king of the world, neither are the 14 jokers who voted for the resolution because they were paid off by the Muslim lobby. As Ben-Gurion once said:
          “what is important is not what “the world says” but what the Jews do”.

          Reply to Comment
    3. Bill Inaz

      FTA: “One perceivable consequence of the Security Council resolution is that it might embolden the International Criminal Court prosecutor to decide to open a formal investigation into the Israeli “war crime”…”

      The irony of seeing a war criminal like Samantha Power issue diktats to someone else is, although maddening, somewhat delicious. As she sat there in the chamber blubbering on, dead Libyan children were washing up on Italian shores after failed attempts to flee the murderous environment created by her and her cabal. Why doesn’t the ICC have Samantha, Susan Rice, Obama, Hillary, Kerry, Hollande, and NATO pilots in the dock? The whole ‘Israeli/Palestinian nonsense is a head fake of miniature scope designed to take attention away from the war crimes of the E.U and USA.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Ben

      “14 jokers who voted for the resolution because they were paid off by the Muslim lobby.”

      Inventive slander. Interesting how Muslims are the new Jews. “The Muslim lobby.” Would that be like “the Jewish lobby”? “Oh, no, that’s very, very different, you see. How dare you?”

      “What the Jews do.” Yep, it matters. That’s what this magazine is about. Apparently the Jews have differences of opinion in this year 2016 going on 2017. A favorite right wing propaganda device is to pretend it’s always April, 1948. Or January, 1942.

      More quotes from Ben Gurion:

      “Under no circumstances must we touch land belonging to fellahs or worked by them.”

      “We consider that the United Nations’ ideal is a Jewish ideal.”

      “We need to anticipate the character of the times, discern embryonic forms emergent or renewed, and clear the path for circumstantial change.”

      “By these will the State be judged, by the moral character it imparts to its citizens, by the human values determining its inner and outward relations, and by its fidelity, in thought and act, to the supreme behest: “and thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Here is crystallized the eternal law of Judaism, and all the written ethics in the world can say no more.”

      Reply to Comment
    5. Average American

      Let’s talk about “political pressure”. What is that exactly? What political pressure was brought by the government and the lobbies of Israel against this resolution? Pressure to veto, pressure to keep the resolution from being eligible to be voted on, pressure to call on congresspeople loyal to Israel (other article), pressure to call Trump if Obama doesn’t do what Israel wants (other article), pressure that Adelson will be very very angry with us. How is that pressure delivered? What specific actions? Israel is holding something over our heads? Israel is threatening us with something? What is that something? Bad mouth someone in the New York Times? Cut off campaign contributions? Cut off our credit at the Federal Reserve Bank? What are we supposed to be bowing to? Let’s have it out in the open what our dear and close friend Israel thinks it can do to us.

      Reply to Comment