US Rebukes Israel in UN Vote on Illegal Settlements

U.S. abstains from Security Council vote, allowing resolution to pass.

Breaking with longstanding U.S. policy, the Obama administration on Friday did not intervene to block a U.N. Security Council resolution urging Israel to stop its settlement construction, instead abstaining from the vote. As a result, the resolution passed the 15-member council 14-0.

The measure itself is largely symbolic. While the resolution states that Israeli settlements on Palestinian land have “no legal validity,” and condemned them as counterproductive, it does not include mechanisms to meaningfully enforce these determinations. Israeli settlements are already illegal under international law.

Nonetheless, the abstention marked a significant departure from the prior policies of the Obama administration, which has vetoed all other U.N. Security Council resolutions aimed at holding Israel accountable.

“We could not in good conscience veto a resolution that expressed concerns about the very trends that are eroding the foundation of a two-state solution,” Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, told the press.

According to Rebecca Vilkomerson, the executive director for Jewish Voice for Peace, "There is an increasing understanding among U.S. political leaders, thanks to ongoing grassroots pressure, of the need to hold Israel accountable to international law.” However, she noted that, “As the only country that abstained, the U.S.’s isolation from the global consensus during the vote was stark. However, halting settlement construction is a necessary but not sufficient step toward Israel changing its policies and Palestinians realizing their rights.”

Vilkomerson underscored the overall landscape remains bleak, saying: “With President-elect Trump urging a veto of even this mild resolution, as well as his nomination of an extreme right-wing Ambassador to Israel, we are deeply concerned by increasing U.S. support for Israeli incitement, annexation and control under his administration and will redouble our efforts to organize resistance to policies based in islamophobia, racism and disregard for even the most basic rights of Palestinians."

In abstaining from the vote, Obama flouted President-elect Donald Trump, who—at the request of Israel—intervened to throw his weight against the resolution. Following a phone conversation with Trump, Egypt rescinded its sponsorship of the measure, pushing back the vote. Ultimately, the resolution was sponsored by Malaysia, Venezuela, New Zealand and Senegal.

On Friday night, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lashed out at Obama, declaring: "Israel looks forward to working with President-elect Trump and with all our friends in Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, to negate the harmful effects of this absurd resolution."

Trump has signaled alliance with the far-right, annexationist wing of Israeli politics. He announced last week that his appointee for U.S. ambassador to Israel is David Friedman, a far-right proponent of Israeli annexation of the occupied West Bank who served as a volunteer fundraiser for American Friends of Beit El Institutions, which funnels money to illegal Israeli settlements.

Yousef Munayyer, the executive director for the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, told AlterNet that Trump is preparing to take a hardline stance even though “civil society actors have been calling for the United States to play a more even-handed role for a long time.”

As Intercept report Zaid Jillani pointed out, Obama also has not been a neutral broker, awarding Israel with the largest military aid package it has ever received.

“Regardless of the outcome today and anything going on with the so-called peace process, there is no doubt that Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions efforts are the way to go,” said Munayyer, referencing the Palestinian call in 2005 for global tactics similar to those levied to topple apartheid in South Africa. “The state system has largely failed to produce any positive progress, and the U.S. has stood idly by. BDS foregrounds civil society to hold Israel accountable, and this has to continue. Whether one thinks the two-state solution is viable or not, we know we will not get to a peaceful outcome as long as Israel continues to perpetrate the occupation.”

Sarah Lazare is a staff writer for AlterNet. A former staff writer for Common Dreams, she coedited the book About Face: Military Resisters Turn Against War. Follow her on Twitter at @sarahlazare.

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