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False hopes and broken promises litter the ground behind the UN Statement on Palestine

February 28, 2023 at 12:23 pm

Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations Riyad Mansour at the UN in New York City on 24 July 2018 [Drew Angerer/Getty Images]

Rarely does the Palestinian Ambassador to the UN make an official comment expressing happiness over any official proceedings concerning the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Ambassador Riyad Mansour, though, is “very happy that there was a very strong united message from the Security Council against the illegal, unilateral measure” undertaken by the Israeli government.

The “measure” in question is a decision, on 12 February, by the far-right government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to construct 10,000 new housing units in nine illegal Jewish settlements in the Occupied Palestinian West Bank. Predictably, Netanyahu was angered by the supposedly “very strong united message” from an institution that is hardly known for its meaningful action regarding international conflicts, especially in occupied Palestine.

Mansour’s happiness may be justified from some perspectives, especially as we seldom witness a strongly-worded position by the Security Council that is both critical of Israel and embraced by the US. The latter has used its veto in the council 53 times since 1972 — according to the UN itself — to block draft Security Council resolutions that are critical of the occupation state.

However, a close examination of the context of the latest UN statement on Israel and Palestine shows that there is little reason for Mansour’s excitement. The statement in question is just that; a statement, with no tangible value and no legal repercussions. It could have been meaningful if the language had been unchanged from its original draft. Not of the statement itself, but of a binding UN resolution that was introduced on 15 February by the UAE ambassador.

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Reuters revealed that the draft resolution would have demanded that Israel “immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.” That resolution — and its strong language — was scrapped under pressure from the US and was replaced by a mere statement that “reiterates” the Security Council’s position that “continuing Israeli settlement activities are dangerously imperilling the viability of the two-state solution based on the 1967 lines.” It also expressed “deep concern”, actually, “dismay” with Israel’s 12 February announcement.

Netanyahu’s angry response was mostly intended for public consumption in Israel, and to keep his far-right government allies in check; after all, the conversion of the resolution into a statement, and the watering down of the language were all carried out with the prior agreement of the US, Israel and the PA. The Aqaba conference held two days ago is confirmation that such an agreement is indeed in place. Hence, the statement could not have come as a surprise to the Israeli prime minister.

Moreover, US media spoke openly about a deal, which was mediated by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. The reason behind it, initially, was to avert a “potential crisis” which would have resulted if the US had vetoed the resolution. According to the Associated Press, such a veto “would have angered Palestinian supporters at a time that the US and its western allies are trying to gain international support against Russia.”

However, there is another reason behind Washington’s apparent sense of urgency. In December 2016, the then US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice refrained from vetoing a similar UN Security Council resolution that strongly condemned Israel’s illegal settlement activities. This happened less than a month before the end of Barack Obama’s second term in the White House. For Palestinians, the resolution was too little, too late. For Israel, it was an unforgivable betrayal. To appease Tel Aviv, the Trump Administration gave the UN post to Nikki Haley, an ardent supporter of Israel.

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Although another US veto would have raised a few eyebrows, it would have presented a major opportunity for the strong pro-Palestine camp at the UN to challenge US hegemony over the matter of the Israeli occupation of Palestine. It would also have deferred the issue to the UN General Assembly and other UN-related organisations.

Even more interesting, according to the Blinken-mediated agreement — reported by AP, Reuters, Axios and others — Palestinians and Israelis would have to refrain from unilateral actions. Israel would freeze all settlement activities until August, and Palestinians would not “pursue action against Israel at the UN and other international bodies such as the World Court, the International Criminal Court and the UN Human Rights Council.” This was the gist of the agreement at the US-sponsored Aqaba meeting as well. While the PA is likely to abide by this understanding — since it continues to seek US financial handouts and political validation — Israel will most likely refuse; in fact, practically-speaking, it already has.

Although the agreement reportedly stipulated that Israel would not stage major attacks on Palestinian cities, only two days later, on 22 February, Israel raided the West Bank city of Nablus. It killed 11 Palestinians and wounded 102 others, including two elderly men and a child.

Moreover, a settlement freeze is almost impossible. Netanyahu’s extremist coalition government is held together in large part by the common understanding that settlements must expand constantly. Any change to this understanding would almost certainly mean the collapse of one of Israel’s most stable governments in years.

Why, then, is Mansour “very happy”? The answer stems from the fact that the PA’s credibility among Palestinians is at an all-time low. Mistrust, if not outright disdain, of Mahmoud Abbas and his authority is one of the main reasons behind the brewing armed rebellion against the Israeli occupation. Decades of promises that justice will eventually arrive through US-mediated talks have culminated in nothing, so Palestinians are developing their own alternative resistance strategies.

The UN statement was marketed by PA-controlled media in Palestine as a victory for Palestinian diplomacy. Hence, Mansour’s happiness. But this euphoria was short lived.

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The Israeli massacre in Nablus left no doubt that Netanyahu will not even respect a promise he made to his own benefactors in Washington. This takes us back to square one: back to where Israel refuses to respect international law, the US refuses to allow the international community to hold Israel to account, and the PA claims another false victory in its supposed quest for the liberation of Palestine. Practically, this means that Palestinians are left with no other option but to carry on with their resistance, indifferent — justifiably so — to the UN and its “watered-down” statements.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.