In July 2011 Lebanon and Brazil tabled a draft UN Security Council Resolution dealing with “Israeli settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem.”
After lifting her hand to veto the proposed draft, then US Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, explained that “we think it unwise for this council to attempt to resolve the core issues that divide Israelis and Palestinians.”
What changed in 2016, leading to America’s abstaining in the vote on UNSCR 2334 last Friday?
First, America’s past experience.
In 2011 (as in 2016) all permanent members of the UN Security Council, apart from the United States (i.e. Britain, China, France and Russia), supported the proposed resolution. America’s choice to unilaterally shield Israel in the Security Council – despite her own criticism of settlement activity – drew harsh criticism of the administration’s ability to play a constructive role in the Middle East peace process, and America’s image as an impartial mediator was severely damaged.
A second factor that contributed to the US abstention is the reality on the ground.
Whether right or wrong, the international community perceives settlements as perilous to the viability of that two-state solution and as opposed to international law.
While this perception remains unchanged since 2011 (and long before then), Israel’s continued expansion of settlements persists, thus changing the reality on the ground.
In the years that have elapsed since 2011 Israel did not adapt its settlement policy, and has failed to differentiate between the building of large settlement blocs close to the security barrier on the one hand and the building of outposts deep inside Palestinian territory on the other.
The third factor is Israel’s declared intentions. Naturally, these can be assessed through two channels: verbal and operational.
Verbally, Israel’s senior coalition partners continue to publicly exclaim their lack of support for the two-state solution. Operationally, these words have been complemented by recent legislative work that aims to legalize most of the settlement outposts.
The fourth factor is the strained relations between the leaderships. It is no secret that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama have differing perspectives on a range of issues. This was also the case in 2011. However, in the runup to the nuclear agreement signed with Iran in 2015, and particularly further to Netanyahu’s address to the US Congress, these relations soured dramatically. While the first three factors provide concrete grounding for America’s decision to abstain from the vote, it is certainly plausible that good relations, a personal fondness and mutual understandings between the two leaders may have prevented this decision.
The wording of the 2016 resolution, which as opposed to the one tabled in 2011, relates to violence, terrorism and incitement as additional risks to the internationally- desired two-state solution, may have also made it easier for US Ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, to raise her hand in abstention of the vote.
Further to these developments over the last five years and their culmination in UNSCR 2334, Israel’s leadership would do well to look to the future and consider its policies in light of the next five years and beyond. If the plan is to continue the expansion of all settlements – remote and close to Israel’s borders alike – this should be spelled out. The implications of such policies should be addressed and the likelihood of Israel to remain a democratic state that is the homeland of the Jewish people should be reckoned with.
If the end-goal is the two-state solution – Israel’s settlement policies should clearly be adapted.
The writer is a Neubauer research associate at INSS, and a board member of Forum Dvorah: Women in National Security and Foreign Policy.