Molad - the Center for the Renewal of Israeli Democracy

Analysis
26.12.2016 analysis by Dr. Avner Inbar
Photo: UN Photo/JC McIlwaine
Photo: UN Photo/JC McIlwaine    

UNSC resolution: World placing price tag on settlements

The UN Security Council’s resolution is a direct response to right-wing policies in the Occupied Territories, which have placed Israel on a collision course with the world. We need responsible leaders who understand that the military occupation and settlements cannot continue without repercussions.

Exactly three years ago, Molad published a comprehensive study of Israel’s international standing. We showed that contrary to right-wing claims, Israel’s problem does not lie with faulty marketing (“Hasbara”) but with its actual policies. Israel enjoys strong ties with many countries, especially in the West, based not only on common interests but on shared values. Yet the adamant expansion of settlements undermines this alliance, leaving Western countries little choice but to criticize Israel. Our analysis found that Israel’s falling out of international favour stems almost entirely from its policies in the Occupied Territories. Holding Palestinians under military occupation and expanding the settlements belies the unwavering global consensus in favor of a two-state solution. As we wrote in 2013: “The notion that it is possible to ignore this point of contention between Israel and the international community is irresponsible and is not anchored in reality… Responsible Israeli leadership must take into account the dangers exposed by this rift with its allies. Simultaneously, it must internalize the notion that any solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must fall in line with the values of Western democracies, and that a continued deferral of such a solution will result in ever-increasing costs for Israel and its citizens.”

 

Last week’s approval of UN Security Council Resolution 2334 showed how accurate this prediction was. Netanyahu can try all he might to spin the resolution as “anti-Israeli” – an effort in which he is sadly being aided by the opposition – but the fact is that not a single word in the resolution undermines the legitimacy of the State of Israel. In fact, as public opinion polls from recent years show, most Israelis would sign off on most, if not all, sections of it. The resolution singles out settlements as the greatest obstacle to peace and a target for international intervention. Its main aim is to consolidate the status of the two-state solution and lend stronger political and legal credence to the existing consensus in its favor. This is achieved primarily by two mechanisms incorporated in the resolution:

 

  • Declaring the settlements as unlawful, thus negating the notion that creating “facts on the ground” will lead to a change in the normative (mainly, legal) state of the Occupied Territories. With this assertion, the international community is signalling to Israel that settlement construction does not create an irreversible reality or bring about recognition of Israeli sovereignty in the West Bank.
  • Resolving to distinguish, in international dealings with Israel, between the sovereign State of Israel and the Occupied Territories. This move is aimed at isolating the settlements and cutting them off from Israel in terms of foreign and trade relations. With This official distinction in place, states and international organizations can now take operative action.

As Molad argued three years ago, Israel’s position as a sovereign state enjoys broad and solid international support. However, its military control of the Occupied Territories and construction of illegal settlements there are overwhelmingly rejected. Hawkish governments that seek to entrench Israel’s hold over the West Bank heighten this conflict with West, painting the entire country as a settlement enterprise. We need responsible leaders who can face this reality and act accordingly, rather than delude themselves – and the rest of the country – that Israel can continue to settle in the territories without repercussions.

 

Netanyahu’s public protestations over the resolution attest to a growing disconnect with global reality on his part. It is unclear why Netanyahu believes President Obama simply owed him a veto, as if the ingratitude he has shown despite Obama’s unprecedented support for Israel’s security and real interests should have led to a different outcome. By alluding to an impending “a new era” and promising to “stand firm with our allies” against the resolution, Netanyahu is hinting at upcoming changes once President-Elect Trump takes office next month. But although Trump has declared his support for Israel, it is hard to predict how his administration will handle the question of Israel’s occupation and settlements (Trump’s lawyers and future administration officials David Friedman and Jason Greenblatt are vehemently pro-settlements, yet Trump’s candidates for Secretaries of State and Defense may have a very different priorities). Even if the Trump administration allows Israel to continue unchecked over the next four (or eight) years, one fundamental truth remains unchanged: the settlements only have to be dismantled once. That will probably not happen under Trump, as it did not happen under Obama or for the last half-century. But the best Israel can hope for from Washington is a carte blanche to expand settlements. Such a development may send thrills down spines in the Jewish Home party, but in the end, there may not be much difference between removing 150,000 settlers now or 200,000 in a few years (moreover, it is much easier to get Israelis to move into settlements in the so-called “blocs” that are slated to remain in Israeli control under a two-state solution than to lure them into the isolated enclaves that are actually jeopardizing partition).

 

Thanks to the Security Council’s unanimous statement that the settlements are illegal and that the June 1967 borders remain the basis for an agreement between Israel and Palestine, it will be even harder for Israel to use new construction as a means for transforming the geopolitical situation. Insofar as the entire international community stands firm against the settlements, scattering more mobile homes on hilltops won’t change the fundamental reality. Indeed, Trump’s successor may have different ideas about the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Should he want to promote the two-state solution, he will enjoy the broadest international consensus to date, backed by the UNSC resolution and by consequent measures that will undoubtedly be taken by states and international organizations in intervening time. Israel’s right-wing government may enjoy a temporary reprieve under Trump, but the world’s objection to the settlements is not expected to change any time soon. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that President Trump will manage to bring about a strategic shift in favor of Israel’s control of the Occupied Territories.

 

Molad spoke over the weekend with several US and Israeli senior officials who all believed that the US would probably have vetoed the resolution had it not been for the Israeli government’s attempt to pass a “regulation law” concerning illegal outposts in the West Bank and the frenzied efforts to avert the court sanctioned evacuation of the illegal outpost of Amona. This encapsulates the paradox that lies at the heart of the settlement enterprise: Since the settlement enterprise is undergirded by a fundamentalist logic, its proponents find it hard to actually further their interests since they are incapable of compromise and are wedded to absolute principles at the expense of worldly solutions.

 

The UN Security Council’s resolution articulates the inescapable trend in the international community – yes to Israel, no to settlements. In the coming years, the general public in Israel will pay a growing price for the settlements. But as its interests collide with the religious fervor of settlement enthusiasts, it is hard to foresee the latter emerging victorious.

 

Read Molad’s analysis of Israel’s international status and isolation here.