Analysis: Unwittingly pushing anti-settlement moves at UN

A few minutes after Bennett spoke, US Ambassador Dan Shapiro took the stage and said that the US remains committed to the two-state solution.

November 24, 2016 06:41
4 minute read.
Barack Obama

President Barack Obama during a news conference in the White House. ‘What was the role played by countries like the US in the Arab Spring?’. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Education Minister Naftali Bennett, in an address to dozens of diplomats at The Jerusalem Post’s annual diplomatic conference on Wednesday, talked about the historic opportunity Israel now has to turn the conversation away from a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“The next few weeks present a unique window of opportunity for Israel,” Bennett told the crowd. “Since 1967 there have always been external reasons for Israel to not do what is right for itself. When Prime Minister Netanyahu meets president Trump, what will he say? Will he continue the long-standing approach of forming a Palestinian state in the heart of Israel, or take a new, fresh approach?” But paradoxically, Bennett may be fueling efforts to get an anti-settlement resolution through the UN Security Council in US President Barack Obama’s waning days in office.

A few minutes after Bennett spoke, US Ambassador Dan Shapiro took the stage and said that the US remains committed to the two-state solution, and bewailed negative steps on the ground threatening to overturn any chance at a two-state solution. Among the negative steps he spelled out that could lead to a “slide” into a one-state, binational reality was – of course – Israeli settlement construction.

During his address, Shapiro gave no indication of what outgoing Obama might do on the Middle East in his final months in office. However, Murray McCully, New Zealand’s foreign minister, was in the country last week, and Wellington – according to Western diplomatic sources – has not ditched the idea of bringing a Mideast resolution to the UN Security Council before the end of the year.

Yes, New Zealand. Why? Because its two-year temporary seat on the UN Security Council will expire December 31, and – like so many other countries – it is looking to leave some kind of diplomatic legacy, some footprint that says, “New Zealand was here.” And what better place to do that than in the Middle East? For almost the entire two years that it has been on the Security Council, there has been talk that New Zealand would sponsor some kind of Mideast resolution. Last year the talk was first that it would co-sponsor a resolution with the French, then that they would sponsor a more declarative, less prescriptive resolution than the French had in mind.

And now the French have seemingly backed away from their intent to bring a resolution to the Security Council, New Zealand is at it again – discussing the possibility of a resolution dealing with the settlements.

And Bennett’s comments, as well as comments by others on the Right saying that the new Trump administration provides a great opportunity for a new construction push, only give greater incentive to those who want to see such an anti-settlement initiative at the UN move forward.

Ironically, New Zealand is having a hard time finding a lot of backers.

The Arab Quartet – made up of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates – has not been overly enthused about the idea. Not because they have fallen in love with the settlements, Western sources said, but because they do not want to give Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas any “prize” at this time, as he continues to thwart what they want to see: an orderly succession process put into motion inside Fatah.

The position of the US on this type of measure is – at this time – anyone’s guess. On the one hand, Obama vetoed an anti-settlement resolution at the UN in 2011. But in 1979, during Jimmy Carter’s tenure as president, the US abstained and let Security Council Resolution 446 pass.

That resolution declared that “the policy and practices of Israel in establishing settlements in the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967 have no legal validity, and constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East.”

Obama, in his final days, may want to enshrine his well-known opposition to the settlements in a UN Security Council resolution that would be more difficult for Trump to overturn, because it would have the imprimatur of the international community.

At this point no one knows for sure what Obama would do if such a resolution came before the Security Council – vote for, abstain or veto – or how Trump would react.

But one thing is clear: Declarations about the death of the two-state solution, or statements about the historic opportunity now to launch a major building drive in Judea and Samaria, give added incentive to those who want to see the UN Security Council send a clear message to Israel: “Don’t even think about it.”

This is a legacy a country like New Zealand – with just over a month left in the diplomatic limelight on the Security Council – is keen on leaving.

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