British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson on Tuesday told Parliament the United Kingdom played a key role in advancing an anti-settlement resolution passed by the United Nations Security Council last month.
London’s top diplomat also maintained that he backs US Secretary of State John Kerry who, during a keynote speech on the Middle East, criticized Jewish settlements in the West Bank as a major obstacle to peace.
“I remind the House that the UK was closely involved in its drafting, although of course it was an Egyptian-generated resolution,” Johnson said on Tuesday, according to a transcript of the proceedings. “We supported it only because it contained new language pointing out the infamy of terrorism that Israel suffers every day, not least on Sunday, when there was an attack in Jerusalem.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted that the Obama administration propelled the resolution to a vote at the international body, reiterating that accusation on Tuesday.
UN Resolution 2334 was adopted on December 23 and supported by 14 out of the 15 members of the Council, including the UK. The US abstained and did not use its veto power to block the resolution that says Israeli settlements are in violation of international law, have no legal validity and demands an end to settlement building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The resolution also denounces terrorism and incitement to violence.
Egypt had initially sponsored the resolution but then dropped it, allegedly following pressure from Israel. It was taken up by New Zealand, Senegal, Malaysia, and Venezuela.
Israel responded furiously to the UN vote, with Netanyahu leading the heated response, much of which was directed at the Obama administration that, he said, had colluded with the Palestinians and helped draft the resolution. Netanyahu, who also serves as foreign minister, ordered the ministry to summon 12 ambassadors on Christmas Day for a dressing-down in Jerusalem and limited activities with the countries’ embassies in Israel.
Despite Johnson’s admission and repeated denials by Washington that it played any role in the draft, Netanyahu continued to insist that the US was behind the resolution, telling a meeting of officials from AIPAC Tuesday that Israel has “unequivocal evidence” the United States was behind the effort.
“We have unequivocal evidence that the Security Council resolution passed against Israel was led by the [Obama] administration,” Netanyahu said. “There is no question whatsoever about it.”
Citing Israeli and Western diplomats, the Haaretz newspaper reported Tuesday that British officials worked with the Palestinians to formulate the resolution before the Egyptians drafted the document. Israel was not informed at the time of British involvement.
Even after the Egyptians backed away from the resolution, it was Britain that urged New Zealand to keep the resolution alive, the report said.
Reports that Britain played a key role in bringing the resolution to the Security Council first emerged days after the vote, with British officials saying the resolution was theirs, not the White House’s. The Jewish Chronicle quoted an unnamed senior British political source saying that by the time the text reached the 15-member body, it was “in effect a British resolution.” The Guardian similarly reported Britain “played a key behind-the-scenes role” in ensuring the resolution passed.
Another British source told the Chronicle that the “yes” vote for the resolution was part of UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s new strategy toward Israel, according to which the Jewish state’s friends have to take a stand against settlements to garner favor with the Palestinians.
The US has vehemently denied Israel’s charges about the resolution, with Kerry insisting the US “did not draft or originate” the resolution, introduced by Egypt and later, after Cairo withdrew it, by the four other nations.
Referring to the US secretary of state’s speech, delivered at the State Department in Washington less than a week after the UN vote, Johnson proclaimed that “Kerry was completely right to draw attention to the illegal settlements and he was completely right to draw attention to the substance of Resolution 2334.”
In his December 28 address, Kerry defended America’s decision not to veto the UN resolution and focused overwhelmingly on settlements as a central cause of the failure to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He warned that Israel’s agenda was being set by extremists, criticized the composition of Israel’s government, and declared that the future of a two-state solution was being jeopardized by Israeli policy.
A day later a spokesman for May, who has expressed robust support for Israel in a series of recent speeches and messages, castigated Kerry’s speech, accusing him of a wrong-headed approach and of being unfair to Israel.
The US State Department hit back in bitter language of its own, denying that Kerry had been unfair to Israel, and implicitly accusing the UK of being hypocritical in voting for the UN resolution and then criticizing the secretary. “We are surprised by the UK Prime Minister’s office statement given that Secretary Kerry’s remarks — which covered the full range of threats to a two state solution, including terrorism, violence, incitement and settlements — were in-line with the UK’s own longstanding policy and its vote at the United Nations last week,” a State Department statement said at the time.