Why doesn’t the US try to repeal the UN’s anti-settlements resolution?

Washington no longer considers settlements illegal and vows to fight anti-Israel bias in international fora, but 3 years on, Security Council Resolution 2334 stands unchallenged

Raphael Ahren

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

US ambassador Samantha Power signals her country’s abstention in the Security Council vote on Resolution 2334, December 23, 2016 (UN Photo/Evan Schneider)
US ambassador Samantha Power signals her country’s abstention in the Security Council vote on Resolution 2334, December 23, 2016 (UN Photo/Evan Schneider)

Three years ago, the United Nations Security Council passed a seminal resolution condemning Israel’s settlement enterprise. Resolution 2334 passed with the help of then-US president Barack Obama, who decided to abstain rather than vote against it. The current US administration has consistently condemned the controversial resolution, but has failed to repeal or revoke it.

US President Donald Trump and his team have taken unprecedented steps to express their support of the settlements, including declaring that they are not necessarily illegal under international law.

But they have made no known effort to strike Resolution 2334 from the books, likely because they are cognizant of the sheer impossibility of repealing a Security Council resolution — not to mention the broad international consensus against the settlements.

There is no formal mechanism for repealing a Security Council resolution. The only way to get rid of Resolution 2334 would be to pass a new one. But given that nearly all countries in the world staunchly oppose Israel’s settlement movement, there is virtually no chance of that happening.

“The Trump administration has been clear that the previous administration’s abstention on UNSCR 2334 — thereby allowing the resolution to pass — was a very serious mistake. I am proud that the administration has reversed the erroneous policy underlying this misguided and unhelpful resolution,” US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman told The Times of Israel on Tuesday.

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman speaks to members of the Christian press, during an event in Jerusalem, October 14, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“We remain strongly committed to combating all forms of anti-Israel bias, and all attempts to isolate and de-legitimize Israel, in the United Nations and other international fora.”

‘Zionism is racism’ resolution took 16 years to reverse

Friedman’s boss, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who in November announced the administration’s about-face on the question of the settlements’ legality, has continued to declare the administration’s unwavering support for Israel, including fighting anti-Israel bias at the UN.

“This week 28 years ago, the US led the effort to revoke a UN resolution that falsely slandered Zionism — the movement for Jewish statehood in the homeland of the Jewish people,” he tweeted on December 17. “We remain committed to supporting our ally Israel and confronting the hostility it faces at the UN.”

Pompeo was referring to UN General Assembly Resolution 3379, which in November 1975 “determine[d] that Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination.” This resolution passed with 72 yeas — mostly from Arab and Muslim states, the Soviet bloc and some African countries — and 35 nays, with 32 abstentions.

The clause that equated Zionism and racism was revoked on December 16, 1991, with an additional General Assembly resolution. More than 110 countries voted in favor of Resolution 46/86, while 25 opposed it; 13 abstained and 15 were absent.

“The revocation was the culmination of a long struggle,” the Foreign Ministry stated at the time, noting that it was Israel’s condition for its participation in the Madrid Peace Conference later that year.

We would not normally dignify this resolution with further discussion of its contents

In May 2017 — less than half a year after 2334 passed — Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon spoke of efforts to repeal the resolution, but acknowledged that it was an uphill struggle.

“It’s not easy because [countries like] Russia and China will probably veto it, but I think gradually we can make a change,” he told The Jerusalem Post Annual Conference in New York at the time.

“But I want to remind you that in 1975 the UN adopted a resolution which equated Zionism to racism, and it took us 16 years to repeal this resolution. I believe we can do the same with this one.”

Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon moments before the Security Council voted on Resolution 2334, December 23, 2016 (UN Photo/Manuel Elias)

US diplomats denounce 2334, but mum on repeal

On December 18, US Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft, who has said repeatedly that Israel will have no better friend than her, dedicated an entire speech to Resolution 2334.

“It is one-sided. It is unfairly critical of Israel. And had I been the ambassador at the time of the vote on the resolution, I would have vetoed it,” she told the Security Council during a a routine briefing on the situation in the Middle East.

“We would not normally dignify this resolution with further discussion of its contents. However, given the comments we have heard this morning about rocket attacks that threaten innocent people, it would be of some benefit to explore one element of this resolution.”

Earlier that day, Gaza terrorists had fired rockets at Sderot. In response, the Israeli military attacked a Hamas weapons production facility in the coastal enclave.

“Resolution 2334 is unambiguous in one important respect: It condemns all acts of violence – including acts of terror, provocation, and incitement. Lest we dismiss rocket fire as something other than an act of violence, we should recall that millions of Israelis live under the threat of attack each and every day,” Craft said.

It was the constant threat of rockets that precluded the possibility of peace, she said. “Moreover, these acts of violence are clearly condemned by Resolution 2334. So I must ask: Will this Council also condemn them? Will this Council even take them seriously?”

Anti-Israel bias at the UN has become unremarkable, she said, adding that “what truly is remarkable is the resilience of the people of Israel.” Israelis are living in the shadow of constant rocket fire but go on to defend freedom and win Nobel prizes, she continued.

Kelly Craft, Permanent Representative of the United States of America to the United Nations at the Security Council meeting on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question, December 18, 2019. (UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe)

“Israel is a gleaming light for the world. Is it to be condemned? No. It is to be emulated,” Craft declared.

A peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can only emerge when the two parties resume negotiations, she posited. “And for that to happen, this Council, and the parties in question, must take more seriously the threat of violence from Gaza – especially from Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.”

She did not mention any effort to repeal Resolution 2334.

On November 18, Pompeo declared that the administration had concluded, after a careful legal analysis, that the “establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not per se inconsistent with international law.”

At the same time, he stressed that he was “not addressing or prejudging the ultimate status of the West Bank,” which, he added, was for Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate.

“International law does not compel a particular outcome, nor create any legal obstacle to a negotiated resolution,” he said.

Resolution 2334, passed in December 2016, states that the establishment of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem after the 1967 Six Day War “has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-state solution and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace.”

US ambassador Samantha Power signals her country’s abstention in the UN Security Council vote on Resolution 2334, December 23, 2016 (UN Photo/Evan Schneider)

It further urges Israel to “immediately and completely cease all settlement activities” and calls for “affirmative steps to be taken immediately to reverse the negative trends on the ground that are imperiling the two-state solution.”

The resolution also asks all states to distinguish, in their dealings with Israel, between the territory generally recognized as under Israeli sovereignty and those areas Israel captured in 1967.

Resolution 2334 has been quoted by the European Court of Justice in its November 12 decision on the need for special labels for settlement goods, as well as by the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda, who on December 20 announced her decision to launch an investigation into war crimes committed in the Palestinian territories.

“I will never forget that sick spectacle three years ago this month when UN Ambassadors broke out in spontaneous applause as the Security Council declared the heart of our ancestral homeland, including the Western Wall, occupied Palestinian territory,” Israeli ambassador to the US Ron Dermer said at a holiday reception earlier this month.

“On this Hanukkah, I want to especially thank Secretary Mike Pompeo, for boldly rejecting this lie, and for making clear that the United States does not regard Jews settling our homeland as a violation of international law.”

He, too, made no mention of any effort to rescind the much-maligned resolution.

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