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UAE cancels UN vote against Israel settlements, following US-brokered deal

February 20, 2023 at 5:42 pm

The flags of the UAE and Israel fly at the Dubai expo, in the gulf emirate [KARIM SAHIB/AFP via Getty Images]

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has informed the United Nations Security Council of its decision to no longer call for a vote today on a draft resolution against Israel’s expansion of illegal settlements, agreeing with the Palestinian Authority (PA) to drop the opposition following intervention by the United States.

After Israel’s new far-right government announced earlier this month that it will lift all restrictions on the building of illegal settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, many nations throughout the Arab world and the West condemned the move in varying degrees.

The PA and the UAE had also decided to call for a vote at the UNSC for a resolution which “reaffirms that the establishment by Israel of settlements in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law.” It would have demanded that Israel “immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory”.

In a near last minute decision before the UNSC meeting today, however, the UAE and PA withdrew their intent to call for the vote, with senior diplomats and officials revealing that pressure by the Americans had changed their minds, as well as a reported deal offering Palestinians incentives in return for their restraint.

In a note seen by the Reuters news agency, the UAE said that “Given the positive talks between the parties, we are now working on a draft PRST [presidential statement] which would garner consensus” at the UNSC. “Accordingly, there will not be a vote on the draft resolution on Monday. Much of the language of the PRST will be drawn from the draft resolution.”

According to anonymous Israeli and US officials, if PA President, Mahmoud Abbas, promised not to turn to the United Nations to oppose Israel and its decision, Tel Aviv would freeze the plans it had announced. The US also reportedly guaranteed its support for a presidential statement by the UNSC denouncing Israeli settlements, which is a largely symbolic move, but one that would be the first time in nine years that it supports such a statement critical of Israel.

READ: America is ‘deeply troubled’, so what?

The alternative to that offer, as American officials reportedly told PA officials involved in the proposed resolution talks, was that Washington would veto any resolution condemning Israel.

One senior Palestinian official in Ramallah, according to Haaretz, “We were not in a situation of voting in the Security Council or not voting, the situation was a clear — American veto or a presidential statement that will emphasise the Palestinian position in relation to the steps taken by Israel”.

The official assured that, rather than being a withdrawal from the demands of the formerly proposed resolution, it signals a positive shift in American policy towards Israel’s transgressions. While the US administration of President Joe Biden had traditionally refused to isolate Israel with any statement or position, he said, “a month and a half after the establishment of Netanyahu’s new government, the world is already reacting and putting things in perspective regarding Israel’s aggression, while emphasising that the option to return to the Security Council is always there.”

As part of the alleged deal, Israel also reportedly agreed to temporarily suspend unilateral actions in the West Bank, such as new announcements on settlement building for several months. The demolitions of Palestinian homes and Palestinian evictions will also be suspended for a few months, and the number of Israeli military raids in Palestinian cities and camps will be decreased.

Israel apparently also agreed to several economic steps to increase Palestinian tax revenues by over $60 million a year, and the PA agreed to start implementing the security plan put forward by the US to restore PA control in the West Bank cities of Jenin and Nablus, as well as to start talks on resuming security coordination with Tel Aviv.

According to the Palestinian official, “the question now is whether Netanyahu will really curb his far-right ministers’ actions, or will he renounce any understanding [reached] with the Americans”?

An official in the Israeli Prime Minister’s office, however, has denied the significance of the deal, asserting that “There are no understandings. We finished all the building plans [for settlements] last week and had no intention of convening the committee to approve new ones in the next three months, anyway”.

READ: How long until Abbas reneges on his word about security coordination?