UN Security Council pans Israeli settlements; Israel: US should not have signed on

After members bow to American pressure, withdraw resolution urging halt to settlement activity, they issue softer joint statement saying actions imperil prospects for 2 states

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

A United Nations Security Council meeting on the situation in the Middle East, at the United Nations headquarters in New York City on February 20, 2023. (Yuki IWAMURA / AFP)
A United Nations Security Council meeting on the situation in the Middle East, at the United Nations headquarters in New York City on February 20, 2023. (Yuki IWAMURA / AFP)

Members of the UN Security Council issued a rare joint statement on Monday condemning a series of recent Israeli settlement expansion announcements, after the US managed to convince members to withdraw a more forceful resolution on the matter.

“The Security Council expresses deep concern and dismay with Israel’s announcement on February 12, 2023, announcing further construction and expansion of settlements and the ‘legalization’ of settlement outposts,” the presidential statement reads, referring to the cabinet decision to legalize nine outposts — many of which are on private Palestinian land — and to green-light plans for some 10,000 settlement homes for advancement this week, the largest-ever package of projects to be approved in one sitting.

While a presidential statement is largely symbolic and likened by Israeli media to a “glorified press release,” Monday was the first time one had been issued regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in nine years. Still, it lacked the binding nature of a resolution akin to the one adopted in 2016, which more forcefully condemned Israeli settlements.

“The Security Council reiterates that continuing Israeli settlement activities are dangerously imperiling the viability of the two-state solution based on the 1967 lines,” read Monday’s communique.

The statement also condemned “all acts of violence against civilians, including acts of terrorism” and called on all parties to condemn acts of terrorism, refrain from inciting violence and hold those targeting civilians accountable. Members also recalled “the obligation of the Palestinian Authority to renounce and confront terror.”

Despite those latter points, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office issued a statement of its own blasting the Security Council announcement as “one-sided,” claiming that it “denies the rights of Jews to live in our historic homeland and ignores the Palestinian terror attacks in Jerusalem over the past month.”

Then-head of opposition Benjamin Netanyahu seen during an inauguration ceremony of a new neighborhood in Beit El, in the West Bank, July 12, 2022. (Sraya Diamant/Flash90)

Netanyahu’s office said the Security Council statement “turns a blind eye to the fact that the PA subsidizes terrorism and pays the families of terrorists.”

In a rare public criticism of the Biden administration, Netanyahu’s office concluded that the Security Council statement “should not have been made and the US should not have signed on to it.”

The US found itself in an uncomfortable situation over the past week at the UN as it lobbied members not to bring a resolution against the recent Israeli settlement announcement — which it has itself strongly opposed. However, the Biden administration has long maintained that the UN is not the proper forum to adjudicate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In order to coax the PA to withdraw its support for the resolution drafted by the United Arab Emirates on Ramallah’s behalf, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told PA President Mahmoud Abbas that Washington would instead support the lower-level presidential statement, two US and Palestinian officials told The Times of Israel. In addition, Blinken told Abbas that he would receive a White House meeting with US President Joe Biden later this year — an invitation that Netanyahu himself has yet to receive.

Israel had also passed along warnings to the PA that it would not advance a series of measures aimed at easing Palestinian lives ahead of Ramadan if a Security Council resolution was adopted, according to an official familiar with the matter.

A display shows US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield as she speaks during a United Nations Security Council meeting on the situation in the Middle East, at the United Nations headquarters in New York City on February 20, 2023. (Yuki IWAMURA / AFP)

The PA acquiesced on Sunday and the UAE agreed to withdraw the resolution. The presidential statement did not call for an immediate end to settlement activity but did express the council’s opposition to “unilateral measures that impede peace,” including confiscation of Palestinian land, demolition of Palestinian homes and displacement of Palestinian civilians.

It also called for upholding the status quo at Jerusalem holy sites, a matter that has come into question under the new government, which includes religious officials who have long campaigned in favor of allowing Jewish prayer at the compound.

Later on Monday, the Security Council held its monthly session where members are briefed on developments in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

During the session, the UN’s Mideast envoy Tor Wennesland expressed his support for the presidential statement while urging Israeli and Palestinian leaders “to match security efforts with political steps that can halt the negative slide and restore hope in an end to the conflict and prospects for a viable two-state solution.”

He lamented the loss of life on both sides since the council’s last meeting. The new calendar year has seen 11 Israelis killed in attacks in East Jerusalem and 49 Palestinians killed in the West Bank — most in clashes with IDF troops but some under more questionable circumstances being investigated.

Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations Gilad Erdan holds a picture of Yaakov and Asher Paley while speaking to members of the media, following the United Nations Security Council meeting on the situation in the Middle East, at the United Nations headquarters in New York City on February 20, 2023. (Yuki IWAMURA / AFP)

In her own remarks to the council, US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield condemned “terrorist attacks on religious sites, attacks by settlers, attacks on security services, rockets launched against civilian areas, and other forms of violence create a cycle of increasingly dangerous escalations.”

She also characterized the presidential statement as “real diplomacy at work, and we believe it signifies to all parties how seriously this Council takes these threats to peace.”

For his part, Israeli Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan blasted the Security Council for taking issue with “building permits [issued] in already existing communities… while dead Jewish children elicit nothing. This is a disgrace.”

Midway through his remarks to the Council, Erdan held up a photo of brothers Yaakov Yisrael and Asher Menahem Paley who were killed in a ramming attack by a Palestinian earlier this month.

“Today’s meeting should have been wholly dedicated to the innocent Israelis recently murdered, but seeing as this council prefers to focus elsewhere, I ask the minimum respect be paid to the victims and their memories,” he said before proceeding to read out the names of the 11 victims killed in attacks in the past month and standing for a minute silence.

Ash Obel contributed to this report

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