The UN Security Council has passed a resolution urging an end to illegal Israeli settlements, which the US refused to veto, abstaining instead.
The motion was passed with 14 votes in favour and one abstention. It is the first resolution the Security Council has adopted on Israel and Palestine in nearly eight years.
The resolution demands Israel:
immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem…[the establishment of settlements by Israel has] no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law.
Four of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, and all 10 of the current non-permanent members voted in favour of the motion: China, France, Russia, UK, Angola, Egypt, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Senegal, Spain, Ukraine, Uruguay and Venezuela.
‘more than merely symbolic’
The passage of the resolution changes nothing on the ground between Israel and the Palestinians and likely will be all but ignored by the incoming Trump administration.
But it was more than merely symbolic.
The resolution formally enshrined the international community’s disapproval of Israeli settlement building and could spur further Palestinian moves against Israel in international forums.
Reversal of US policy
The US has traditionally sheltered Israel from condemnatory resolutions. The US abstention was seen as a parting shot by US President Barack Obama, who has had an acrimonious relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and who has made settlements a major target of peace efforts that have proven ultimately futile.
However, after today’s vote, US Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power said that continued settlement building “seriously undermines Israel’s security”.
The United States has been sending a message that the settlements must stop privately and publicly for nearly five decades… One cannot simultaneously champion expanding Israeli settlements and champion a viable two state solution that would end the conflict. One had to make a choice between settlements and separation
US President-elect Donald Trump, who called for a veto along with Netanyahu, is likely to be a more staunch supporter of Netanyahu’s right-wing policies. He named a hardline pro-Israel ambassador and vowed to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
US Republicans: ‘absolutely shameful’
US House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan and Senator John McCain, both Republicans, blasted the Obama administration’s decision to abstain in the vote. Ryan said in a statement the US abstention was “absolutely shameful” and a “blow to peace.” McCain said in a statement the US move “has made us complicit in this outrageous attack.”
Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, said after the vote:
It was to be expected that Israel’s greatest ally would act in accordance with the values that we share and that they would have vetoed this disgraceful resolution. I have no doubt that the new US administration and the incoming UN secretary-general will usher in a new era in terms of the UN’s relationship with Israel
Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said the US had abandoned Israel by abstaining in the United Nations Security Council vote which adopted a resolution demanding an end to Israeli settlements. Steinitz, who is close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, told Israel’s Channel Two news:
This is not a resolution against settlements, it is an anti-Israel resolution, against the Jewish people and the state of the Jews. The United States tonight has simply abandoned its only friend in the Middle East
‘…A day of victory’
Meanwhile, Palestinians say the adoption of this anti-settlement resolution “is a day of victory”.
The issue of Jewish settlements is one of the most contentious between Israel and the Palestinians, who see them as an obstacle to peace.
About 500,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements built since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this. Israel says their final status should be determined in talks on Palestinian statehood. The last round of US-led peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians collapsed in 2014.