The UN Security Council Resolution 2334 adopted before Christmas is a turning point and a dangerous politico-diplomatic challenge to Israel.
In terms of its content, it merely reiterates traditional international positions regarding Israeli policies and practices since 1967, namely, the construction of settlements in the occupied territories is contrary to international law and a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949.
According B’tselem, Israel’s human rights organisation that monitors official policies in the occupied territories, at the end of 2012, there were 5,47,000 settlers in the West Bank, including about 2,00,000 in East Jerusalem. Current estimates put the figure at over 6,00,000 at least beyond the Green Line of June 4, 1967. This population inhabits over 140 recognised settlements as well as dozens of illegal “outposts”.
Ever since the process began after the June War of 1967, the settlements were unable to change the demographic composition of the West Bank where presently, close to two million Palestinians live. But they could break the territorial continuity of a Palestinian state.
Along with paraphernalia like bypass roads and security arrangements, they have made the West Bank a fractured reality and question a viable Palestine. The UNSC resolution reflected these concerns and declared the settlements “are dangerously imperilling the viability of the two-State solution based on the 1967 lines”. In line with its earlier decision, the resolution called for “the dismantlement of all settlement outposts since March 2001”.
What is more ominous was the decision of the Obama administration to facilitate resolution 2334 by abstention. Ever since Benjamin Netanyahu became prime minister in March 2009, shortly after Barack Obama entered the White House, relations between the two were anything but cordial.
Rather than working towards a common goal, both drifted apart with Netanyahu confronting Obama’s policy over the Iranian nuclear controversy. His perceived interference in the US presidential election in 2012 in favour of Republican challenger Mitt Romney wasn’t sensible.
Obama was also not blemish-free; his suggestion of June 1967 lines being the “basis” for any Israeli-Palestinian settlement was logical, but diplomatically suicidal. Thus, Obama could not resist the temptation of conveying his pent-up frustration with the Israeli leader.
His decision to facilitate the latest UNSC move came against the backdrop of the unexpected victory of Donald Trump and some of his controversial statements concerning West Asia, including the shifting of the US embassy to Jerusalem. By enabling the passage of the resolution, Obama conveyed his anger with Netanyahu and opened a Pandora’s Box.
Since the early 1960s, closer ties with the US has been the cornerstone of Israel’s foreign policy. Obama’s vote raised serious doubts over Israel’s continued ability to depend upon Washington for political and diplomatic support. The resolution underscores the wedge between the two; undoing this damage would be Netanyahu’s priority.
This would make Israel increasingly dependent upon the Trump administration and would compromise its manoeuvring capabilities especially vis-à-vis the peace process. Being a businessman, Trump would largely be driven by a “transactional” approach and hence, Netanyahu would have to think of tangible “deliverables” if he wants to overcome the bitterness from the Obama administration. Israel’s politico-diplomatic dependence upon the US will only accentuate in the coming weeks and months.
The Security Council resolution also highlighted the skewed approach of the Palestinians and their supporters. Settlements are one of the contentious issues in the Israeli-Palestinian relationship but not the only one. Issues such as Jerusalem, refugees and borders are as important.
A better approach should focus on the question of borders; seeking an agreement on the border issue will resolve the settlement issue, while the converse is not true. The Security Council resolution 242 adopted in November, 1967 advocates a “secured and recognised border” between Israel and its Arab neighbours.
In practical terms, this means a border Israel considers “secured” must be “recognised” by Palestine and vice versa. Once the border question is resolved, all settlers beyond that agreed border between Israel and Palestine will have to choose between either moving back to Israel or living as citizens of Palestine. Unfortunately, who says events in the Middle East follow the trajectory of reason and logic?