Dec 27th 2016

Big Day at the United Nations

by James J. Zogby

Dr. James J. Zogby is the President of Arab American Institute

There was considerable drama leading up to the passage of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334 (UNSCR 2334) reaffirming the illegality of Israeli settlements.

It began with all hell breaking loose Thursday morning when it became clear that the Egyptians would submit their resolution on Israeli settlements for a vote at the Security Council and that the Obama Administration would support the effort, either by voting in favor or by refusing to veto it.   

On Wednesday, there had been a hint that something was up. The White House spokesperson appearing on a cable TV news program referred to Israeli settlements as illegal—the first time that had happened since the Carter Administration. While he later attempted to "clarify" his remarks, the point had been made. This was followed by an announcement that Secretary of State John Kerry would make a policy address Thursday in advance of the UN meeting that was to consider the resolution.   

President-elect Donald Trump sprang into action by tweeting—"The resolution being considered at the United Nations regarding Israel should be vetoed". This was echoed, minutes later, by a nearly identical tweet from Israel's Prime Minister Bejamin Netanyahu. It has been reported that both leaders made direct calls to Egypt's President Abdul Fattah el-Sisi pressuring him to withdraw the resolution. Egypt folded and pulled the resolution from consideration. Kerry's speech was abruptly cancelled.   

Late Thursday, New Zealand, working together with Malaysia, Senegal, and Venezuela, with the support of the PLO, issued an ultimatum to Egypt to either immediately introduce the resolution or they would do it themselves. When Egypt did not, the New Zealand-led group followed through and a vote was scheduled for Friday afternoon. In response to this development, the threats from the Israelis,the President-elect, and Members of the US Senate increased in intensity.   

At 2:00 pm, the Security Council convened. Members spoke and then voted—14 in favor, none opposed, with the United States abstaining, thereby, guaranteeing the resolution's passage. Adding to the day's drama, following the passage of UNSC 2334, the usually staid Security Council chamber broke into sustained applause.   

President-elect Trump, ever the bully, responded with an ominous threat: "As to the UN, things will be different after Jan. 20th". Senator Lindsey Graham, Chair of the committee that oversees foreign operations' funding called the resolution a "provocative action" that "must be dealt with sternly and forcefully" and threatened to cut US support for the United Nations. For his part, Netanyahu reacted hysterically terming the vote "shamelessly anti-Israel", accusing the Obama Administration of "ganging up" against Israel", and declaring that Israel would not be bound by any of the terms of the resolution.

Looking at the text of Security Council Resolution 2334, itself, one might wonder why all the drama and overreaction. It is, in fact, largely a restatement of decades of US policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The resolution reaffirms well-established principles of international law regarding the inadmissiblity of the acquisition of territory by force and the applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention to the occupied territories. Seen in this light, the resolution declares that Israel's confiscation of land, construction of settlements, and the transfer of their population into the occupied territories are violations of international law.   

The resolution goes on to remind both the Israelis and Palestinians of commitments they have made to the international community citing the Madrid peace conference and the Quartet's Roadmap—specifically noting how the settlement enterprise endangers the possibility of a two-state solution and a peaceful negotiated resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, while reminding the Palestinians of their responsibility to condemn all acts of violence against civilians and incitement to violence.   

There are those who may dismiss UNSCR 2334 as just another resolution without teeth that will be ignored. But last month's 156-3 vote in the UN General Assembly in support of a similarly worded statement and now this Security Council vote establish a growing world-wide united front against Israel's aggressive annexationist policies, threatening to further isolate Israel and a Trump-led United States in the international community.   

What the reactions of Trump and Netanyahu make clear is that, despite their hollow words to the contrary, they have no intention of supporting a just resolution to the conflict and apparently don't give a damn about what the rest of the world may think. This is what we may have expected—but we now see it playing out in real time a month before the new Administration takes office.   

Bullying and threats of temper tantrums might have intimidated Egypt, but they did not dissuade the nations of the world from speaking in one voice. Moving forward, this is something that both the future Trump Administration and Israel's Netanyahu must consider. As Israel continues to advance legislation "legalizing" illegal outposts; as Trump considers flaunting law and world opinion by moving the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem; and as the Senate decides whether to make good on threats to cut or reduce US dues to the UN—they run the risk of international outrage, fraying ties with allies, and even sanctions. These are consequences to consider.  

This drama will continue to play out in the New Year—and it all began on December 23rd, a big day at the United Nations.

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