UN vote on Israeli settlements has changed little
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UN vote on Israeli settlements has changed little

Experts say Security Council resolution is irrelevant and even counterproductive; Obama allowed it through, Trump's UN envoy has said it will not happen again

Construction in the Israeli settlement of Kiryat Arba, near the West Bank city of Hebron, on April 2, 2017. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)
Construction in the Israeli settlement of Kiryat Arba, near the West Bank city of Hebron, on April 2, 2017. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

AFP — Three months after a landmark UN resolution condemning Israeli settlements, the measure has changed little on the ground and some analysts question whether it ever will.

Security Council Resolution 2334, passed in December, did little to halt settlement building, with a raft of new projects announced by Israeli officials in the weeks that followed.

At the same time, it is among the measures US President Donald Trump’s administration has cited in its argument that Israel is being unfairly targeted at the UN.

Some diplomats see the resolution as increasingly irrelevant, even counterproductive.

“It was a flash in the pan,” one said.

It was passed in former president Barack Obama’s final days in office after the United States opted not to veto it, giving the green light for the first Security Council resolution condemning settlements since 1979.

Trump had called for it to be vetoed.

Members of the UN Security Council vote in favor of condemning Israel's settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem on Friday, Dec. 23, 2016 at United Nations Headquarters. (Manuel Elias/United Nations via AP)
Members of the UN Security Council vote in favor of condemning Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem on Friday, Dec. 23, 2016 at United Nations Headquarters. (Manuel Elias/United Nations via AP)

The Israeli government reacted fiercely, withdrawing ambassadors from countries that sponsored it and threatening sanctions.

“Israel categorically rejects the despicable anti-Israeli resolution at the UN, and will not adhere to it,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a seething statement after the council voted in favor of the motion 14-0, with the US abstaining. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu subsequently accused the Obama administration of secretly formulating the text with the Palestinians. Jerusalem warned it would be “a tailwind for terror and boycotts” and derided its text for branding “the Western Wall occupied Palestinian territory.” (The resolution refers to East Jerusalem, including the Old City as “occupied Palestinian territory.)

Israel has also announced plans for more than 5,500 new homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem since January.

Last week, it announced the first new government-sanctioned settlement in more than 25 years, for the evacuees of the illegal Amona outpost.

Trump’s UN envoy Nikki Haley has promised a much different approach.

“The days of Israel bashing are over” at the UN, she told the AIPAC pro-Israel lobby in Washington, DC, last week. “That happened but it will never happen again,” she said od Resolution 2334. “You’re not going to take our number one democratic friend in the Middle East and beat up on them,” she said.

Critics say that Israeli settlement expansion is gradually eroding hopes of a two-state solution, the basis of years of negotiations.

Settlements are viewed by most international leaders as illegal, though Israel disputes this, and as major stumbling blocks to peace as they are built on land the Palestinians see as part of their future state. Israel says that settlements are not an impediment to peace and these issues must be the subject of negotiations.

‘Too late’

While Trump has vowed unstinting support for Israel, he too has called on the country to “hold back on settlements for a little bit” while Washington considers ways to restart Israeli-Palestinian talks.

Still, Netanyahu’s government has negotiated with the White House on how to move forward with settlement building.

US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley speaks at an anti-BDS event at the United Nations assembly hall on March 29, 2017. (Ynet screenshot)
US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley speaks at an anti-BDS event at the United Nations assembly hall on March 29, 2017. (Ynet screenshot)

Robert Serry, until 2015 UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, said the resolution was effectively stillborn because it came so late in Obama’s term.

“I support the resolution’s content,” he told AFP. “But it is an example of what can happen if something happens too late.”

Had a similar resolution not been vetoed by the Obama administration in 2011, it could have built pressure on Israel, he said.

“But what we have seen now is the resolution has become the focus of all kinds of activities in Israel and the United States claiming it is another example of Israel bashing.”

Britain, for example, later seemed to backtrack.

It voted for the resolution but later refused to support a statement at a Middle East peace conference in Paris in January that Israel opposed.

There was speculation that London was in part concerned with upsetting the incoming Trump administration.

Israel’s objections to the resolution included the fact that it branded

“If 2334 symbolized some sort of international consensus, what happened in Paris was exactly the opposite,” said Nimrod Goren, head of the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, along with MK Avi Dichter and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, visit a new section of the security barrier between Israel and the West Bank near Tarqumiyah on July 20, 2016. (Haim Zach/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, along with MK Avi Dichter and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, visit a new section of the security barrier between Israel and the West Bank near Tarqumiyah on July 20, 2016. (Haim Zach/GPO)

“Instead of the resolution being the starting point for significant action or agreement, it was stepped back on.”

Alan Baker, a former senior Israeli diplomat and negotiator, said Trump’s and Israel’s actions had made the resolution less relevant.

“Obama was at the end of his term and felt he could lash out,” he said. “Now (critics) have to pull themselves back and limit their bashing of Israel.”

Being ignored?

On March 24, current UN Middle East envoy Nickolay Mladenov presented the first quarterly report on the resolution.

Serry pointed out that new UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres did not present the report, and questioned whether it was an attempt to distance himself from the resolution.

Trump has proposed cuts in US funding to the UN, which could leave Guterres, who only took office in January, in a bind.

Serry said rows over Israel and the Palestinians threatened to damage the UN’s work elsewhere. “This can impair on the very functions of the United Nations itself.”

The content of Mladenov’s first report also faced criticism.

Illustrative image of an Israeli soldier guarding near the Kedumim settlement, with the Palestinian village of Kadum in the background, on November 13, 2009. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)
Illustrative: An Israeli soldier guarding near the Kedumim settlement, with the Palestinian village of Kadum in the background, on November 13, 2009. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

One clause in the resolution calls on countries to differentiate between Israel and its settlements.

Mladenov’s first report says only that there were “no developments” related to this matter.

Nathan Thrall from the International Crisis Group think tank said more needed to be done.

“At the most basic level I would expect Mladenov to name and shame — to call out those member states who are not complying with 2334,” he said.

A UN official speaking on condition of anonymity said it was up to countries to enforce implementation.

Not everyone has been critical, and some believe the resolution being passed was an achievement in itself.

“We all knew there wouldn’t be any real world consequences. It was more about making a point,” one European diplomat said.

“Now we no longer refer to resolutions from the 1980s. We refer to something from 2016.”

But Thrall said that for now, little action could be expected.

“Can we at this point say that 2334 is being ignored? Yes.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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