Opinion Piece : The UN Security Council reaffirmed this afternoon that Israel’s establishment of settlements in Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, had no legal validity, constituting a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the vision of two States living side-by-side in peace and security, within internationally recognized borders. – Resolution 2334 (2016)
It is interesting how one’s true intentions may be revealed in the final moments, when it seems he has nothing left to lose. Just last week, the world heard departing UN secretary general Ban Ki moon criticize the UN’s bias against Israel, a nation for which it seems to harbor an inexplicable fixation, despite the ghastly atrocities committed elsewhere in the world. Yet, less than the week later, under the indifferent, or perhaps approving gaze of a departing US president, the UN Security council passed 2334, a bill declaring all Israeli settlements illegal, a “flagrant violation” and an ‘obstacle’ to a perceived peace towards which neither Israel nor the Palestinian leadership of any type has shown any strong affinity.
It is worth discussing what UN proposition 2334 was, what it wasn’t, as well as what it may have been. We’ve have heard a lot about the principals and the politics. Indeed, in the firestorm that surrounds such an ugly issue, it has become difficult to separate one from the other, but for the sake of attaining some clarity, it is worth making an honest attempt.
Let’s address the argument that Obama abstaining from the vote was a ‘stab in the back’ to Israel. Politically, there is a lot to be said for the possibility that this was a parting shot from the departing administration against Benyamin Netanyahu, following their highly publicized ramming of antlers over the course of his eight-year presidency. However, there is also a lot to be said supporting a logic-based motive behind Obama’s fateful failure to intervene. Quite possibility, the outgoing president sees the allowance of this resolution as a way of curtailing the eight years of pro-Likud foreign policy we can expect from a Trump administration. It is likely that Obama sees future sanctions from around the world as a way of balancing powers, as the incoming Trump administration has shown no signs of sympathizing with the Palestinian cause, or granting their claims any heed. Yet were this the case, the president chose a rather underhanded way of making his point- knowing full well that his failure to intervene would cause the bill to pass in a political environment which has been toxic to Israel, and which passed the absurd and counter-historical bill that denies Jewish ties to the Western wall just last month.
The UN has proven itself a broken mechanism for applying even the modicum of fairness or effectiveness in mending the woes of the world in the Middle East and elsewhere. Departing Secretary General Ban-Ki moon gave a spirited speech, criticizing the UN’s bias against Israel- an open acknowledgement of the elephant in the room. Yet in honesty, It’s difficult to find a party ‘in the right’ here. Military occupation has imposed a harsh way of living on many Palestinians, coupled with the expansion of Jewish settlements, often ideologically driven and entirely unjustifiable by international law. At the same time, it would be overly kind to say that the Palestinian authority has proven itself an ineffective peace partner- for to call it so would imply a failed effort, when what seems far more likely the case is a successful effort to mount and support violent resistance, including the targeting of Israeli civilians.
Despite the political firestorm and strong feelings of betrayal expressed by many in the pro-Israel camp, it would be difficult to claim that on principal, Obama’s allowance of the resolution is a deviation from the principals that have defined his administration- or indeed many other voices in the West- in previous years. Obama, and has never seen eye to eye with Israel on the matter of expanding settlements, nor has Israel managed to provide a legitimate answer to its settlement expansion. Even staunch Israel advocate and Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz has said that while he claims a legal premise for Israeli military occupation, he has opposed settlement expansion, likely on the premise that it is simply unjustifiable by international law.
And so it would seem that in this sea of flawed actors, it is much easier to find the ‘wrong’ on any side than a valid base for building peace. Yet most flawed of all seems to be the UN’s model for peace-building, where it is assumed that holding one side accountable in a two sided conflict can sow legitimate peace.