In what is yet another diplomatic blow for the two-state principle, the UN Security Council, on Friday, passed a resolution with a 14-0 majority urging Israel to halt its illegal settlements programme in the occupied Palestinian territories. The vote is notable as Israel’s pre-eminent backer, the United States, chose to abstain. By doing so, the Barack Obama administration bucked its earlier record of vetoing a similar resolution in 2011. U.S. President-elect Donald Trump was prompt in promising a different response once his tenure commences on January 20. He had sought to work behind the back of Mr. Obama in trying to scuttle this resolution by reaching out to Egypt, which originally drafted it but backed down from its nomination due to “intense pressure”. But it will be difficult for the Trump administration to have this resolution overturned, passed as it was without a veto. That said, the resolution, by way of its adoption under Chapter 6 of the UN Charter, is not binding and comes only with recommendations. It therefore does not affect the status quo in the occupied territories. Even so, its unambiguous language stating that the settlements constitute a violation of international law offers hope for the Palestinians who have filed a suit (that includes the construction of settlements) against Israel in the International Criminal Court.
Israel’s reaction has been predictable. It has refused to comply with the terms of the resolution. It has repeatedly sought to create “new facts on the ground” by continuing to build settlements, imposing a blockade on Gaza, forcing international censure to only keep apace with its latest violations. This outrageous behaviour has been made possible by the unrelenting support provided by the U.S. in the past. While Mr. Obama has had a testy relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his administration continued to fund and arm Israel despite, for example, the atrocities in Gaza. The U.S. had also recently worked out a deal that provides $38 billion in military aid over 10 years to Israel, cementing long-established strategic ties. Seen in this light, the administration’s decision to abstain in the most substantive resolution on Israeli settlements since 1980 is even more remarkable. It is also a possible parting shot by the outgoing administration before the unambiguously partisan Trump team takes charge. Either way, it is up to the international community to take the cue and find ways to check and censure Israel’s brazen rule-breaking, and forge a fair solution for the Palestinians.