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Is the UNSC resolution on Israeli settlements a geopolitical nightmare?

Is the UNSC resolution on Israeli settlements a geopolitical nightmare?

By Soumya Ghosh

The United Nations Security Council in a landmark vote passed a resolution, sharply criticising the Israeli settlement enterprise. In the words of the UNSC Resolution, the Israeli settlements “dangerously imperils the viability of a two-state solution” and “has no legal validity.”

The status quo

The United States refused to veto the resolution allowing its passage, with fourteen other Security Council member states voting in the affirmative.

The passage of UNSC Resolution 2334 caused a diplomatic firestorm, as Israel vowed to retaliate diplomatically against countries which voted in favour and also, to not abide by the terms of this resolution.

For all those bewildered about this resolution, this article will explain all the key terms, phrases and ramifications of the resolution.

What is the two-state solution?

The two-state solution is the most commonly accepted solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which calls for “two states for two peoples.” This solution basically envisages a sovereign Jewish and democratic Israel living side by side with a sovereign Palestinian state in accordance with the 1967 borders, with mutually acceptable land swaps.

Why is the two-state solution in jeopardy?

The two-state solution is in jeopardy due to a multitude of factors. But, the most critical factor is the settlements enterprise. It “imperils the viability” of a two-state solution. That is because settlements constructed in the occupied Palestinian territory make it impossible for future negotiators to carve out a contiguous Palestinian state without displacing the hundreds of thousands of settlers who live in occupied West Bank, in contravention of the applicable international humanitarian law.

Palestinian protesters wave Palestinian flags as Israelis carrying Israeli flags walk past in front of the Damascus Gate outside Jerusalem's Old City.

Palestinian protesters wave Palestinian flags as Israelis carrying Israeli flags walk past in front of the Damascus Gate outside Jerusalem’s Old City. | Photo Courtesy: The Jeruselem Post

Legal ramifications of the resolution

The legal ramifications of this resolution are quite far-reaching. First and foremost, it adds legal ammunition to the Palestinian case against Israeli officials (particularly, soldiers) at the International Criminal Court. Moreover, the Israelis have long argued that the Fourth Geneva Convention does not apply to the Palestinian territories, as West Bank is not occupied by a “high contracting party”. Thus, the stipulations of Article 2 under the Fourth Geneva Convention are inapplicable in this context. But, after the passage of UNSCR 2334, the Palestinians have legal baggage to reinforce their case in front of ICC.

After the passage of UNSCR 2334, the Palestinians will have legal baggage to reinforce their case against Israelis in front of ICC.

Furthermore, this resolution calls upon countries, to distinguish in their respective dealings between proper Israel and the territories it occupied post the 1967 war. Therefore, it unlocked a wide array of openings of potential boycotts and sanctions of products produced in the settlements. The European Union, for that matter, already started labelling goods produced in the settlements, more countries could follow suit as a result of this.

Finally, this resolution potentially paves the way for multiple lawsuits against Israeli citizens involved in the settlements enterprise.

Short-term and long-term consequences

Short term: This resolution does not include any punitive measures against the state of Israel, as it was adopted under Chapter VI of the UN Charter, and hence, it is only symbolic. Moreover, this resolution also calls for the Secretary-General to submit a report on the settlements to the Security Council every three months.

Long term: Albeit, the resolution was adopted under Chapter VI of the UN charter, this resolution further signals Israel’s isolation in front of the international community. As mentioned above, it could stir calls for boycott and sanctions against settlement-produced goods and provide legal weight to the Palestinian cases at the ICC in Hague.

Domestic implications for Israel and the United States

Israel: This resolution had serious domestic reverberations, as its passage was widely interpreted as an embarrassing defeat for the Netanyahu government. Months prior to its passage, they had stated that the “days of an automatic majority against Israel at the UN are over.”

United States: In the waning days of the Obama administration, the United States quite controversially decided to abstain from this resolution. This vote occurred in the first place due to the frosty personal relationship between Netanyahu and Obama, as far as inferences go.

However, the majority of United States Congress members differed from Obama’s viewpoint of this resolution. Senior Republican Senators threatened to cut off US funding of the UN, which constitutes nearly 22% of the UN budget. Moreover, the President-elect, Donald Trump, rebuked the United Nations for having a singular focus on Israel and failing to stop other more volatile conflicts around the world. The President-Elect also pledged to exercise US Veto power to defend Israel against any further UNSC Resolution(s).

Donald Trump nominated David Friedman as U.S. ambassador to Israel to enhance existing relations between the two nations.

Donald Trump nominated David Friedman as U.S. ambassador to Israel to enhance existing relations between the two nations. | Photo Courtesy: Veterans Today

Can President-elect Trump retract this resolution?

In theory, yes. But, in practicality, it is quite implausible for him to retract it since, a contradicting resolution – which recognises the legitimacy of the Israeli settlements – needs to pass. Given the declared stances of Security Council Member states, it is highly unlikely that any of them will eventually support this.

Is the US abstention of this resolution unprecedented?

Definitely, no. Several past US administrations had abstained from resolutions critical of the state of Israel. However, this was the first resolution since 1980 which directly dealt with the legality of Israeli settlements. During the tenure of Obama, there was no adoption of UNSC resolutions with respect to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and a similar resolution in 2011 was vetoed by the United States.

Israel’s response and diplomatic counter-moves

Prime Minister Netanyahu stated that he intended to cut Israeli support to the tune of 8 million dollars for five UN institutions “which are particularly hostile to Israel.”

Furthermore, Israel recalled the ambassadors from Senegal and New Zealand – who were among the sponsors of this resolution, and also summoned the ambassadors of all states which supported this resolution, to personally rebuke them.

The Prime Minister, moreover, instructed the Foreign Ministry to cut all aid to Senegal and have limited diplomatic interactions with all the states that voted in favour of this resolution.

The future of US-Israeli ties and other geopolitical ramifications

President-Elect Trump during his campaign pledged to move the United States Embassy to Jerusalem – which could potentially inflame tensions in the Arab world, as Jerusalem holds both political and religious sensitivity to millions of Arabs.

Furthermore, Trump appointed a far-right candidate for the US Ambassador, who in the past publicly supported Israeli settlement expansion. Coupled with that, the United States recently signed a 38-billion-dollar military aid package with Israel – which further solidifies the Israeli-US defence and intelligence bonding. So, it is safe to infer that the relationship between Trump and Netanyahu will be much warmer than the latter’s relationship with Obama.

The relationship between Trump and Netanyahu will be much warmer than the latter’s relationship with Obama.

The immediate geopolitical ramifications of this resolution are quite difficult to determine. Several Arab states have stated that they are willing to recognise Israel if they accept the proposals of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative. With the onslaught of Iranian expansionist policies in Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen, the Gulf States want to forge a closer defence partnership with Israel. They can only make such a clandestine cooperation public – if Israel takes positive steps towards the accomplishment of a two-state solution as per the Arab Peace Initiative.

The Russians are quite eager to fill this power vacuum, as the dawn sets on the United States military supremacy in the Middle East. President Putin invited both the parties: The Israelis and Palestinians to the Kremlin, “for direct negotiations” – and none dared to refuse. It would be interesting to see how the subsequent talks shape from this juxtaposition.


Featured Image Source: Washington Times
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