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In the waning days of the Obama administration, the United States decided not to veto Security Council resolution 2334, which condemned Israeli settlements. While there is no denying the political and symbolic importance of the resolution, its direct legal and practical implications are limited—albeit not insignificant.
The draft resolution was originally put forward by Egypt. Israel, aided by President-elect Trump, had unsuccessfully tried to prevent its adoption over the past few days, pressuring Egypt into withdrawing the draft. However, Malaysia, New Zealand, Senegal and Venezuela eventually took over the effort and called a vote on Friday. Fourteen of the Council’s 15 members voted in favor of the resolution. The U.S. abstained.
The U.S. abstention is perceived in Israel as a departure from the U.S. diplomatic practice of blocking Israel-related measures at the U.N., even though previous U.S. presidents have allowed resolutions concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to pass. The Obama administration had vetoed a similar measure condemning settlements back in 2011. Then-U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice said at the time that “while the United States agrees about ‘the folly and illegitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity, we think it unwise for this Council to attempt to resolve the core issues that divide Israelis and Palestinians.’”
This time, U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power said that things have changed. She described the continuous expansion of Israeli settlements, the failed attempts to revive negotiations, and the recent statements from the Israeli leadership expressing its commitment to the settlement enterprise. According to Power, the U.S. abstention was in line with the longstanding U.S. position “that Israeli settlement activity in territories occupied in 1967 undermines Israel’s security, harms the viability of a negotiated two-state outcome, and erodes prospects for peace and stability in the region.” She added that “[t]oday, the Security Council reaffirmed its established consensus that settlements have no legal validity.” Power noted that one of the factors that encouraged the sponsors of the resolution to call for a vote now was the proposed settlement regularization law currently considered by the Israeli Knesset (see previous post). At the same time, Ambassador Power explained that the U.S. did not vote in favor of the resolution because it is too narrowly focused on settlements. She also condemned violence and incitement on the Palestinian side and criticized the U.N. for its double standard where it comes to Israel. Power made it clear that the U.S. remains committed to Israel’s security. (See also Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes’ statements explaining the U.S. decision in less diplomatic language).
In a separate statement, Secretary of State Kerry indicated that we will hear more from the U.S. on the Israeli-Palestinian issue in the coming days. He promised to share “more detailed thoughts, drawn from the experience of the last several years, on the way ahead."
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s office has already made it clear that Israel will not abide by the terms of the resolution, and that Israel looks forward to working with President-elect Trump to reverse it. And President-elect Trump tweeted: “As to the U.N., things will be different after Jan. 20.”
As to the U.N., things will be different after Jan. 20th.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 23, 2016