The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) passed a resolution 14-0 condemning all Israeli settlements on Palestinian land as having “no legal validity” and amounting to “a flagrant violation under international law.” The resolution goes on to note that Israeli settlements pose “a major obstacle to the vision of two States living side-by-side in peace and security.”
This represents the first UNSC resolution in almost eight years concerning Israel and Palestine, and the first in over 35 years regarding the issue of Israeli settlements. Typically the U.S. would veto resolutions critical of Israel, but in this case, the Obama administration opted to abstain, in effect allowing the resolution to pass.
For comment, AlterNet contacted Noam Chomsky, famed linguist, dissident and professor emeritus of MIT. Chomsky said of the resolution, “The UNSC resolution is essentially the same as UNSC 446, March 1979, passed 12-0-3. The main difference is that then two countries joined the U.S. in abstaining. Now the U.S. stands against the world; and under Trump, in even more splendid isolation, on much more crucial matters as well.”
Following the UNSC resolution, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu quickly responded by announcing a halt to his government’s funding contributions to numerous U.N. institutions. Netanyahu called the resolution “a disgraceful anti-Israel maneuver” and blamed it on an “old-world bias against Israel.” Furthermore, he vowed to exact a “diplomatic and economic price” from the countries that supported it.
Shortly thereafter, Netanyahu made good on his threats by personally refusing to meet with the foreign ministers of the 12 UNSC members that voted for the resolution and ordering his Foreign Ministry to limit all working ties with the embassies of those 12 nations. He also summoned the ambassadors to the Foreign Ministry for a personal reprimand over the vote—including, in a highly unusual move, the U.S. ambassador.
Asked about Netanyahu’s response, Chomsky told AlterNet, “The hysterical reaction in Israel and in Congress (bipartisan) reflects their sharp shift to the right in the years since, and the whole incident illustrates quite interesting shifts in world order.”
Palestinian rights advocates have quipped that Israel’s suspension of relations with the UNSC member nations that voted for the resolution—powerful countries including the U.K. and France—has effectively realized a goal of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. AlterNet contacted Omar Barghouti, one of the founders of the BDS movement, to see what he thought of this assessment. Barghouti replied, "This unanimous resolution, despite its many flaws in addressing basic Palestinian rights, has dealt Israel's colonial designs a serious blow that will inadvertently, yet significantly, enhance the impact of the BDS movement in isolating Israel academically, culturally, economically and otherwise."
"Israel's delusional hubris and surreal threats to punish the U.N. and the world indicate above everything else how deeply alarmed it is at fast becoming an international pariah, as apartheid South Africa once was."
Ali Abunimah, the Palestinian-American founder of the Electronic Intifada, told AlterNet that Israel’s use of diplomatic sanctions against the UNSC member states contradicted its vocal opposition to sanctions advocated by the BDS movement. Abunimah said, “It’s sort of amusing to Israel try to impose sanctions and punish the whole world for this decision…Israel claims that sanctions are illegitimate as a tool except of course when Israel is the one wielding them, whether it’s against Iran or whether against the countries that displeased it.”
Though Israel’s heavy-handed response may concretely impact its diplomatic standing internationally, the resolution itself is largely symbolic and, as professor Chomsky pointed out, a reiteration of an earlier UNSC resolution. However, experts like Richard Falk, professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University and former U.N. Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights from 2008-2014, don’t think the resolution’s symbolic nature means it isn’t important.
As Falk told AlterNet, “The SC resolution at this stage is symbolic. Israel has already announced plans for thousand additional units, and the government has indicated its refusal to comply with the resolution. Nevertheless, it is of great psychological and potentially political support for the Palestinian struggle to end the occupation and achieve a sustainable and just peace. The fact that aside from the United States' notable abstention, all 14 other members of the Security Council voted in favor of the resolution, is indicative of the encouraging reality that the world is not ready to forget the Palestinians, that Israel faces a renewed experience of diplomatic isolation, and that the growing international solidarity movement, including the BDS campaign, will be strengthened and encouraged.”
Asked how the resolution could move from symbolic to something with more concrete effects, Falk responded, “much depends on the future, and whether the commitment in the resolution to have reports from the U.N. Secretary General every three months on implementation will lead to any tangible results beyond a reiteration of censure remains to be seen.”
Though the Obama administration’s unusual decision not to veto a U.N. resolution critical of Israel might be start toward accountability, many Palestinian rights advocates remain cynical about Obama. Abunimah told AlterNet, “Obama has done more than any other president in history to assure Israel’s impunity.”
“When Obama was president-elect, Israel was engaged in this massacre in Gaza in 2008, 2009. When Obama came in he blocked any form of international accountability, trashed the Goldstone report which was the independent U.N. inquiry. The same in 2014 when Israel attacked Gaza, Obama actually rearmed Israel while the bombs were falling on Gaza and then of course the same story of blocking any form of international accountability. And …giving Israel this unconditional boost in military aid—a minimum of $3.8 billion [per year] over the next 10 years, up from $3.1 billion [per year] currently.”
By Ken Klippenstein/Alternet