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The real impact of UN Resolution 2334 has yet to come

The heart of the UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements is territorial, picking up where 242 left off almost 50 years ago. It will also likely serve as the framework for this month’s Paris Peace Conference.

By Shemuel Meir

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks on Middle East peace, Washington, DC, December 28, 2016. (State Dept Photo)

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks on Middle East peace, Washington, DC, December 28, 2016. (State Dept Photo)

UN Security Council resolution 2334 caught Prime Minister Netanyahu off guard. Out of the clear blue sky. From a territorial perspective, which is the heart of 2334, the Security Council resolution represents an escalation in the way the international community relates to Israel’s borders and its settlements in the West Bank.

The Israeli prime minister read the resolution carefully. Netanyahu’s fiery response — as if the United States was part of some conspiracy and abandoning Israel — is the other side of the strength and surprise of the resolution.

From its first line, the Security Council resolution ties itself to one of the most important resolutions relating to the Middle East: Security Council Resolution 242 of November 1967. Resolution 2334 opens by citing and reaffirming the most important pillar of 242: the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war — a rejection of unilateral annexation. From here on out, the international community’s authoritative interpretation that Israel’s legitimate borders are the pre-1967 lines will be based not only on Resolution 242, but also on 2334. The Security Council drew a line in the sand, or rather, a border: the border between the State of Israel and the State of Palestine.

In order to prevent any misunderstanding or a repeat of Israel’s attempts to play down this interpretation, as it did with 242, paragraph 3 of Resolution 2334 spells out that Israel’s borders should be understood within the context of the June 4, 1967 lines. The world will not recognize any unilateral changes to the ’67 lines. The resolution also makes clear that the settlements have no legal validity (paragraph 1), and that they are a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-state solution (paragraph 4).

Resolution 2334 further adopts the European Union’s approach and builds on the “Mogherini Doctrine” of labeling settlement products and applies it to diplomacy, economics, finance, and science fields. Paragraph 5 explicitly calls on states to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967.

It is true that Resolution 2334 includes East Jerusalem as part of the occupied territories, but the international community has always treated Jerusalem and its holy places separately (starting from its designation as a corpus separatum in the 1947 partition plan). With regards to Jerusalem, the international community (and the Palestinians, it appears) have accepted the Clinton Parameters: East Jerusalem’s Jewish neighborhoods to Israel; its Arab neighborhoods to Palestine.

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men walk near the separation wall around a Palestinian neighborhood of Jerusalem, January 1, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men walk near the separation wall around a Palestinian neighborhood of Jerusalem, January 1, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

There are those in Israel who attempted to diminish the importance of Resolution 2334. They hung their hopes on President-elect Donald Trump overturning the UN resolution. It’s not clear how they think Trump could somehow pull back a document that enjoys such international consensus. People close to Netanyahu seem to believe everything will be resolved when, in the Israeli prime minister’s first meeting with soon-to-be President Trump, the two will renew the Bush-Sharon letter of 2004.

The exchange of letters between then-President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has gained almost metaphysical status among those Israelis who believe in annexing the West Bank, and the right wing regularly waves it around. As far as they are concerned, renewing the Bush-Sharon letter would put Israeli-American relations back on the right track — by giving tacit American approval to annexing the “settlement blocs.” That amorphous catch-all, “settlement blocs,” could be interpreted to include most of the Israeli settlements in Area C (60 percent of the West Bank) — leaving only non-contiguous Palestinian enclaves. The problem with this argument: there is no factual foundation for a U.S. policy that allows Israel to annex “settlement blocs” that would stay under Israeli control in a final status agreement. And there is no such promise in the Bush-Sharon letter.

Relying on the Bush-Sharon letter as if it declared once and for all that Israel can unilaterally expand its borders is shaky logic at best. In his letter to Sharon, President Bush mentions the United States’ commitment to an independent Palestinian state no fewer than six times. “[T]he United States supports the establishment of a Palestinian state that is viable, contiguous, sovereign, and independent,” is the exact quote. President Obama made a nearly identical statement in his 2011 speech at the State Department, and it constitutes the first parameter of John Kerry’s speech explaining Washington’s support of Resolution 2334.

In fact, the Bush-Sharon letter mentions neither “settlement blocs” nor the annexation of any blocs to the State of Israel — not even the Jordan valley. The paragraph that talks about borders actually notes that they should be resolved in accordance with UN Resolution 242. In the same paragraph, President Bush clarifies that, “in light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949.” In other words: the armistice lines from Israel’s War of Independence, which defined the State of Israel until June 1967, are the basis for Israel’s recognized borders.

The term “population centers” can be interpreted in different ways to include, inter alia: urban population centers, neighborhoods in East Jerusalem and settlements. But not “settlement blocs” that eat up large swaths of land in the West Bank. President Bush made clear — and President Obama reiterated this position — that the inclusion of such population centers will be part of a final status agreement that “will only be achieved on the basis of mutually agreed changes that reflect these realities.” Unilateral annexation is not an acceptable option.

U.S. President George W. Bush presents Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon with a letter regarding the Israeli disengagement plan, which would later become known as the Bush-Sharon letter, April 14, 2004. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)

U.S. President George W. Bush presents Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon with a letter regarding the Israeli disengagement plan, which would later become known as the Bush-Sharon letter, April 14, 2004. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)

Secretary Kerry’s parameters speech reiterated the American interpretation of the Bush-Sharon letter. It included no indication of granting legitimacy to unilaterally annexing settlement blocs — quite the opposite. Certain settlements are likely to become part of Israel only as part of negotiations leading to an agreement between Israel and Palestine on the basis of pre-’67 lines with mutually agreed land swaps. That is how the United States has expressed its clear and absolute objection to unilateral annexation. One can presume that even clearer messages have been delivered via diplomatic channels.

Presidents Obama and Bush held nearly identical positions on the territorial issues. It’s difficult to assume that President Trump will turn that stance on its head — it is a position that Washington has held consistently since Resolution 242 and the 1969 Rogers Plan that included minor territorial adjustments. From the American standpoint, the two-state formula based on 1967 lines is the only solution that can prevent a one-state apartheid model (the main part of Kerry’s speech) and which can bring about peace accords between Israel and the Arab world (the Arab Peace Initiative). Secretary Kerry indicated that there can be no regional peace accords made by taking shortcuts and bypassing the creation of an independent Palestine.

Security Council Resolution 2334 is territorial by nature, and it fits the United States’ approach to territorial matters in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It represents the basic American stance with regards to territory and borders. It is because of that alignment that the United States allowed it to pass.

There are also operative aspects. The new Security Council resolution also links itself to the Paris Peace Conference, which according to its mandate adopted in June 2016 is meant to “fully [end] the Israeli occupation that began in 1967.” Along with Kerry’s parameters speech, Resolution 2334 is meant to serve as an outline and platform for the Paris Conference, which is meant to reconvene on January 15, 2017, in order to advance the French initiative.

The obligation to report back to the UN secretary general about the settlements and to issue progress reports every three months (paragraph 12 of Resolution 2334) will ensure that the matter doesn’t drop off the global agenda. Likewise, we can expect the innovative use of technology to monitor settlement growth. Instead of maps by Peace Now, you can expect satellite imagery to be used. The difference in impact will be huge.

UN Security Council Resolution 2334, taken together with Resolution 242, lays out a new paradigm for the world powers’ approach to the question of what are Israel’s borders. The resolution reiterates the international consensus whereby the status quo in the West Bank cannot continue, and demands urgent steps in order to create a situation to enable a two-state solution along pre-1967 lines. Territory is the name of the game. All the other parts of a final status solution stem from it.

Shemuel Meir is a former IDF analyst and associate researcher at the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University. Today he is an independent researcher on nuclear and strategic issues and author of the “Strategic Discourse” blog, which appears in Haaretz.

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    1. Subhana

      Everything you say about the position of the United States government goes out the window in 10 days. You speak about momentous change on the basis of a non-binding resolution passed due to the petulance and pettiness of a coward about to enter a long period of obscurity. Why bother wasting words?

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Everything goes out the window in the right wing’s fantasies but not in reality:

        Increasingly, Supporting Israel No Longer Serves America’s Interests
        Obama’s UN abstention was only the most recent manifestation of ongoing strategic changes that Trump too won’t want or be able to reverse.
        Brent Sasley Jan 07, 2017
        read more: http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.763443

        Reply to Comment
        • Basmala

          Brent Sasley suffers from the same delusion as the author of this piece. He is extrapolating a trend based on a set of circumstances that has a finite and well-known end time. American positions will change in about 10 days. And poof, there goes the trend line.

          Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        “passed due to the petulance and pettiness of a coward”

        This contains a delusion wrapped within a delusion. Delusion: “The US owes Israel automatic vetoes. 2334 did not pass 14-0-1, it passed 1-0.” Delusion: “the petulance and pettiness of a coward.” What you so despise is that President Obama was intelligent and ethical and fair and could not be bamboozled. He was not a freier. He corrected the idiotic mess GWB left him, played a very tough hand as well as anyone could and better than most. He was cool and smart. He killed Bin Laden. He flat out outsmarted and out-toughed Bibi on Iran. UNSCR 2334 is simply chickens coming home to roost. Bibi had every chance to avoid 2334 and in his arrogance and cockiness he flat out miscalculated and blew it. With everyone non-American who had finally had enough, not just Obama. And it can’t be said enough: Obama did what was best for the U.S. (and for Israel!) and you just hate that. (The mass of Israelis are positively brainwashed about Obama—I mean just utterly deluded. Their cooked up hatred for this good man is downright offensive.) A lot of the Arab countries hate that. How dare he? How dare a U.S. president act in America’s interests?

        Reply to Comment
        • Basmala

          Obama passed something at the UNSC at a time when it would have no consequences for him and left it for the next guy. During his time in office he surrendered the Middle East to Russia and Iran and sat idly by while massacres were taking place in Syria while preaching from the side. He sent his Secretary of State to repeatedly make a fool of himself in “Syrian peace talks” in front of the Russians while selling out the rebels the US supported and eventually leaving them to be massacred. He was afraid of confronting the Russians on hacking and election intervention until it didn’t matter at all and then at the last minute in a petulant and meaningless action expelled 35 Russian diplomats knowing full well that they will be back in less than a month. He left Ukraine dismembered and Europe flooded with refugees from that war that he bravely refused to intervene in and in which he bravely and boldly stood by while massacre and ethnic cleansing were happening on a regular basis. He left the US a laughing stock worldwide. And as his last significant action on the Middle East he pushed a meaningless and non-binding resolution which is purely a reflection of his own petulance and pettiness. He is a coward and a failure.

          Reply to Comment
          • Carmen

            “He left the US a laughing stock worldwide. And as his last significant action on the Middle East he pushed a meaningless and non-binding resolution which is purely a reflection of his own petulance and pettiness. He is a coward and a failure”.

            The u.s. was in bad shape years before Pres. Obama was even Sen. Obama so please don’t lay all that at his feet. He did what he could when he could. Of course it should have been sooner, like during the Reagan, Clinton or Bush presidencies? The only cowards and failures imho are the senate and congress, who vowed to veto anything he put before them, even if it was their idea. I don’t think there is any president in history who has been undermined as much as Pres. Obama. What other u.s. president had their congress invite the dictator of another entity to come to congress and talk shit about the sitting u.s. president and what he doesn’t know?


            Reply to Comment
          • Basmala

            Right. It is all the fault of Bush, Bibi, and the Republicans. The commander-in-chief of US Armed Forces and the person solely responsible for America’s foreign policy is blameless for the failures and cowardice of America’s foreign policy.

            Reply to Comment
          • carmen

            Oh come on, that isn’t what I wrote. The blame doesn’t rest on his shoulders alone, there’s plenty of blame to go around. The president of the u.s. is solely responsible for foreign policy – in what world?

            Reply to Comment
          • Basmala

            In the real world. The president appoints a Secretary of State to carry out the president’s foreign policy. He appoints all the ambassadors. He has control over every executive agency which deals with foreign countries and picks their leaders. So yes, in this, the real world, the president is solely responsible for US foreign policy.

            Reply to Comment
          • Carmen

            “Under the Constitution, the president is the federal official that is primarily responsible for the relations of the United States with foreign nations. The president appoints ambassadors, ministers, and consuls (subject to confirmation by the Senate) and receives foreign ambassadors and other public officials. With the secretary of state, the president manages all official contacts with foreign governments.

            On occasion, the president may personally participate in summit conferences where heads of state meet for direct consultation. For example, President Wilson led the American delegation to the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 after World War I; President Franklin D. Roosevelt met with Allied leaders during World War II; and every president sits down with world leaders to discuss economic and political issues and to reach agreements.

            Through the Department of State and the Department of Defense, the president is responsible for the protection of Americans abroad and of foreign nationals in the United States. The president decides whether to recognize new nations and new governments, and negotiate treaties with other nations, which become binding on the United States when approved by two-thirds of the Senate. The president may also negotiate “executive agreements” with foreign powers that are not subject to Senate confirmation.”

            adverb: primarily
            for the most part; mainly.

            adverb: solely
            not involving anyone or anything else; only.

            Reply to Comment
          • Basmala

            Unless you can point out on whose desk other than the President’s you can lay the failures and successes of America’s foreign policy, solely is the correct term to use when assigning responsibility.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            @Basmala: This example of Monday morning quarterbacking, after the quarterback got into the game in the fourth quarter with his team down 50-0 due to, yes, the Republicans and The Three Stooges named Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld (oh how quickly we forget), AND from somebody who I doubt could give two figs about American soldiers’ lives but would be incredibly more worried about Israeli soldiers’ lives, is a perfect example of the principle: “He doesn’t kowtow to the Israeli and American Jewish Right? Ok, let me vilify him from every possible angle I can concoct. Aipac taught me how to do this.” The vilification of Obama is strikingly excessive, irrational, deeply prejudiced, racist. Zvi Bar’el, an Israeli expert in the region, punctures your attack:

            In Treacherous Mideast, Obama Ultimately Did What Was Best for U.S.
            Juggling Egypt’s revolution, Iran’s nuclear program, post-Bush Iraq, the Syrian civil war and the Saudis’ incursion in Bahrain, he opted for the possible options.
            Zvi Bar’el Jan 06, 2017 6:09 PM
            read more: http://www.haaretz.com/us-news/.premium-1.763413

            Reply to Comment
          • Basmala

            Right. After 8 years of Obama’s foreign policy everything that has gone wrong is obviously still Bush’s fault.

            Haaretz is about as objective as Ben Rhodes on Obama.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            No, after 8 years of Obama’s foreign policy everything that has not gone wrong is impressive, and everything totally f*cked up that has been corrected to the degree possible is impressive. Obama’s discipline and inability to be snookered is impressive. And one more time, Obama flat out outsmarted and out-toughed Bibi on Iran. The idea that you are more objective on all this than Zvi Bar’el, by the way, is risible.

            Reply to Comment
          • Al Maajid

            Obama has been most impressive in massively screwing up pretty much every foreign policy issue he has touched. Libya and Iraq are failed states. Russia, China, Iran are all in ascendancy. There is more terrorism everywhere in the world. The EU is cracking up. America’s allies and enemies are united in holding US foreign policy in contempt.

            Obama is the president of the most powerful country in the world by far. According to you his greatest achievement has been to “outsmart” and “outtough” the leader of a Middle Eastern regional power.

            And yes, I am far more objective than Zvi Bar’el. I have no need to suck up to politicians and publishers.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            90% or so of your venom can largely be explained by three things. 1. You don’t give two figs about American interests and American lives and are happy to have Americans fight battles you are too cowardly to fight. 2. You are soaked in anti-Obama racist propaganda meant to distract the Israeli populace from their leaders’ failures. 3. You hate the fact that keeping Iran down and out of its natural role in the regional power balance ecology and promoting excessive Israeli regional hegemony and fostering regional chaos so as to distract from the occupation has not been judged by an American president to be in American interests. Or the world’s interests or Israel’s interests.

            Reply to Comment
          • Subhana

            The world is not in a good place after 8 years of Obama. You can’t argue about the facts. So all you are left with is: (1) It is Bush’s fault, (2) Obama couldn’t have done better – a rather low bar for a “great president”, or (3) ad hominem attacks. It is amazing that in an argument over Obama’s foreign policy someone makes an argument where each point starts with ‘You’.

            Obama is a failure and a coward. As a foreign policy president he will be sorely missed by America’s enemies.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            The world is not in a good place after 8 years of Netanyahu. Of Putin. Of Kim. Of Assad. Of Isis. Of Bush. Of Obama. Of…. Can’t argue with the facts. For a conservative who rails against foreign do-gooders when they intrude on your nice little occupation you sure have an inflated neo-liberal concept of what the American president can and should do to make the world a happy place, or make Israel a happy place, especially when the extremist right wing opposition party in an unprecedented fashion does absolutely nothing for 8 years but tenaciously scheme to make him fail regardless of what would actually be good for their country. And when the president preceding him exhausted the country with idiotic adventures and left an utter mess for Obama to clean up. You play games with causality. Ad hominem? You, the person who calls Obama irrational, vilifying names such as “coward” lectures us on ad hominem? In my last post I was only implicitly “making an argument over foreign policy” I was mainly analyzing your venomous ad hominem.

            Reply to Comment
    2. 2334 is silent about the legality of Jewish (as opposed to Israeli) settlements – for instance those approved by the UK Government. I must also point out that 2334 was passed under Chapter 6 of UN Charter, not Chapter 7. And that the UN is neither a legislative body nor a court of law.

      Reply to Comment
      • Glad To Help

        There is nothing illegal per se in being a “Jewish homeowner”, just as there is nothing illegal per se in being “legally blind”.

        But it is illegal for that Jewish homeowner to act as a colonist for an occupying power, just as it is illegal for that blind person to pursue a living as a taxi driver.

        Nobody disputes that the UN is anything other than an international political organisation.

        But it is perfectly entitled to inform its members what International Law *says* about any given situation (and, admit it, the rest does point to the ICJ’s authoritative opinion as the legal basis for saying what it says).

        And it is also perfectly entitled to remind its own membership what their obligations are under those same international laws.

        After all, that’s what it was created for……..

        Reply to Comment
      • Richard Lightbown

        Sorry Prof you have got me there. Are you talking about Jewish settlements built on the West Bank before 1948? If so what proportion of the 500,000 settlers in the West Bank do those occupants represent? (My guess is it would be insignificant, but I am open to being educated on this.)

        Regarding the use of Chapter 6, there has been discussion about this elsewhere (see http://www.ejiltalk.org/legal-bindingness-of-security-council-resolutions-generally-and-resolution-2334-on-the-israeli-settlements-in-particular/) However you look at it this has got be a document that the Israeli government would prefer not to have around. And in the (admittedly unlikely) event that the international community starts to get serious about Israeli misbehaviour they could well find this a useful document to be able to refer to.

        Reply to Comment
    3. Mark

      The only case of annexation I can think of that was not unilateral would be the partition of Poland. In that case Germany, Austria-Hungary and Russia partitioned Poland between them (twice over). I am not sure it is applicable as Poland was not a willing partner.

      Can someone explain an annexation which is not unilateral? Does it involve a plebiscite of the people living there to make it legitimate?

      Reply to Comment
      • Glad To Help

        Sure, “annexation” is the Ying, while “ceding” is the Yang.

        The claim that “annexation” is, by definition, coercive is simply not true.

        The claim that “annexation” is, by definition, a unilateral act is true only insofar that only a sovereign can claim to be, well, the sovereign. But that’s akin to saying that Israel is perfectly free to unilaterally declare that it has annexed the Earth, the Moon, and the Stars above.

        Sure, Israel can make that proclamation. But no other country would recognise that declaration.

        Take the settlement of Ariel as a hypothetical: if Abbas agreed to cede that territory then every country on Earth would recognise the subsequent Israeli annexation of Ariel. But if Abbas refuses to cede that territory then any Israeli annexation would be regarded as illegal.

        You want a real example of The Ying/Yang of legal cessation/annexations?

        Look up “Vennbahn” (Belgium and Germany)

        Heck, Belgium and the Netherlands did this just 2 months ago when the course of the River Meuse was altered.

        Reply to Comment
    4. The Bush-Sharon letter has a malign aspect, noted by the pro-settlement folks, namely, that it appears to grant permanence to the (large) settlements established at the time of the letter, and seems thereby to give approval in advance for all subsequent (large) settlements. It seems to have set no limits to settlement building or to land-taking for that or for any other purpose. UNSC 2334 seems to reverse that. It is worth noting that the 2004 ICJ advisory opinion called for removing the wall, not merely stating that the wall was illegal (in violation of I/L) where it was within OPT. This would be a good thing for both pro- and anti-settlement folks to bear in mind.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Panim

      The people who claim 1967 ceasefire line is a border, need to explain why it is now a border.

      First: For 19 years (1948-1967) it was a line that fedaeen crossed to kill Israelis.

      second: Since Jordan, who signed the agreement of the ceasefire line. The PLO has taken the ceasefire line between Israel and Jordan, and claimed it as a border.

      The time for the UN to declare and pass a resolution about the Green Line was in 1949, not in 1967.

      Reply to Comment
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