Israeli Settlements as illegal:
UN Security Council Resolution

Dr. Mozammel Haque

It is now 2017; the world has completed hundred years since 1917 when the international community witnessed some terrible events around 1917. In the backdrop of international politics, there was First World War; fall and decline of the Ottoman Empire, Bolshevik Communist Revolution of 1917 and the Balfour Declaration in 1917. Now, in 2017, the international surrounding is different: new political climate, new political environment and a new stage set. But in between 1917 and 2017, there was Second World War, birth of the United Nations and the passing of the United Nations General Assembly Resolution partitioning Palestine and creating state of Israel in 1948.


Now in the 21st century, at the beginning of 2017, again there is a new international political climate and new environment. The whole Middle East is on turmoil; there is so-called Arab Spring. Largest number of Syrian people became homeless, millions displaced and refugees in the Syrian war. Russia is playing the role of mediator in the Syrian war and becoming a power in the Middle East after Second World War. For the first time, America remained absent and allowed the passing of United Nations Security Council Resolution against Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory. The new American Administration under President Donald Trump is going to take a direct pro-Israel policy and Britain has openly and directly declared its Brexit policy. It is now interesting to see how things will take shape in the coming days and years in the world, especially in Palestine. Future is unpredictable; because it depends on human actions.



In this paper, there are three main issues of concern or the area of dispute, which are worrying the mind of peace-lovers as well as peace-makers of the world. These are hurdles creating obstacles on the way to bring peace in the Middle East. These are primarily, or firstly, Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestine territory; secondly the issue of two-state solution and thirdly, the future status of Jerusalem.


So far as the Israeli settlements on the occupied Palestine territory is concerned, the 15-member UN Security Council 14-0 vote passed Resolution 2334 on 23 December 2016 condemning more Israeli settlements on occupied Palestine territory and declared it as illegal. It voted to halt Israeli settlement activity.


Paris Middle East Peace Summit comes on the heels of UN Security Council (UNSC) Resolution last month that condemned Israeli settlements as illegal. Delegates of 70 countries attending the Middle East Peace Summit in Paris on 15th of January 2017 reaffirmed that only a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians could resolve Israeli-Palestine conflict and warned that they would not recognise any unilateral steps taken by either side that prejudge negotiations.


The idea or the dream of the so-called ‘Two-state solution’ to end the decades-old conflict  has been set out in UN resolutions going back to the mid-‘70s, driving diplomatic efforts that culminated in the breakthrough 1993 Oslo Accords. But after many rounds of failed peace talks, it looks increasingly in jeopardy. The Middle East Peace Process has been comatose since a US initiative to re-launch peace talks collapsed in April 2014. The last round of direct peace talks collapsed amid acrimony in April 2014. US Secretary of State, John Kerry, abandoned his efforts to broker peace talks in 2014. The Paris Summit taking place on 15th of January, 2017, in France was trying to signal to Israel and the next US President that establishing a Palestinian state is the only path to peace.


As regards the future status of Jerusalem is concerned, both sides want Jerusalem as future capitals of their state. Another complication is US President-elect Donald Trump. Trump wants US embassy moved to Jerusalem. Just to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem; when he becomes the US President on 20 January, 2017.


In the following pages, the issue of Israeli Settlements in the occupied Palestine territory and the role of UN Security Council is dealt with.


Israeli Settlements as Illegal: UN

Security Council Resolution 2334

This is the first time in the history of the UN Security Council nearly unanimous resolution on the Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestine territory was passed. The 15-member Security Council voted 14-0 passed the Resolution 2334 on Friday, 23rd of December 2016 with US ambassador Samantha Power raising her hand as the lone abstention. UN Security Council Resolution 2334, that was approved by 14 countries — Britain, Russia, China, France, Egypt and Spain among them — with the US abstaining; affirmed the illegality of Israeli settlements.


Friday’s Resolution was put forward by nations in four different parts of the world: Malaysia, New Zealand, Senegal and Venezuela, taking place just a day after Egypt withdrew it following significant pressure from both Israel and US President-elect Donald Trump. It is the first resolution on Israeli settlements to pass in 36 years, Malaysia’s UN Ambassador Ramlan Bin Ibrahim said. Despite an effort led by Israel and backed by US President-elect Donald Trump to block the text, in a rare and momentous step, the United States abstained from Friday’s vote, enabling the adoption of the first UN resolution since 1979 to condemn Israel over its settlement policy.


The UN Security Council Resolution 2334 demands, “Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including east Jerusalem.” It says Israeli settlements have “no legal validity” and are “dangerously imperilling the viability of the two-state solution” that would see an independent Palestine co-exist alongside Israel .It demanded a halt to such activities for the sake of “salvaging the two-state solution.” Loud applause erupted in the council chamber after US Ambassador Samantha Power permitted the resolution to pass. The text was passed with support from all remaining members of the 15-member council.


Most of the world is opposed to Israel’s construction of Jewish settlements in lands it seized in the 1967 Middle East War. The primary holdout at the UN has been the United States, which sees settlements as illegitimate but has traditionally used its veto power as a permanent member of the Security Council to block such resolutions on the grounds that Israeli-Palestinian disputes should be addressed through negotiation.


Explaining the US vote, Power quoted a 1982 statement from then-US President Ronald Reagan, which declared that Washington “will not support the use of any additional land for the purpose of settlements.” “That has been the policy of every administration, Republican and Democrat, since before President Reagan and all the way through to the present day,” Power said. Settlement activity, she added, “harms the viability of a negotiated two-state outcome and erodes prospects for peace and stability in the region.”

Some 430,000 Israeli settlers currently live in the occupied West Bank and another 200,000 Israelis live in annexed east Jerusalem, which Palestinians see as the capital of their future state.


Reactions and Response

Israel and Palestinians

Israel rejects UN Security Council Resolution 2334 vote, recalls envoy to resolution sponsors; Palestinians welcome the UNSC vote

Jordan praises the historic UN Resolution. Jordan on Saturday, 24th of December 2016 welcomed the “historic” UN Security Council resolution demanding a halt to Israeli settlements, saying the momentous vote paved a way for a two-state solution, reported by Sinem Cengiz. “This historic decision expresses the consensus of the international community on the illegality of Israeli settlements and reaffirms the Palestinian people’s historic right (to live) in Jerusalem and its historic lands,” Jordan’s information minister Mohammad Al-Momani said Saturday.


Momani said the resolution reinforced the historic position of Jordan — one of the few Arab states to have diplomatic ties with Israel — on the need for a two state solution.

But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office voiced anger. “Israel rejects this shameful anti-Israel resolution at the UN and will not abide by its terms,” it said. Israeli Prime Minister became “furious” on the US abstention on a United Nations Security Council Resolution condemning Israeli settlements. Netanyahu immediately recalled Israel’s ambassadors from two of the resolution’s sponsors, New Zealand and Senegal, and given the ambassadors of all other Security Council member states — including the US — a dressing down. Israel does not have diplomatic relations with either Malaysia or Venezuela.


A spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas called the resolution a “big blow for Israeli policies.” The move was “an international and unanimous condemnation of settlements and strong support for the two-state solution,” Nabil Abu Rudeina told AFP. Saeb Erekat, a former peace negotiator and the number two in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), spoke of a “historic day.” “December 23 is a historic day and a victory for international legitimacy, international law and international documents,” said Erekat, reported by Mike Smith on 24 December, 2016.


Impact and Effect

About the impact and effect of the Resolution expert has different opinions. Experts that spoke to the Jeddah-based English daily Arab News agree that Resolution 2334 is a slap to Israel, for being the first legal text in 36 years to consider settlements constructed in areas occupied after the 1967 war and include East Jerusalem, with “no legal validity.” Though, the impact of the UN Security Council on the conflict could be minimal and it may push Obama’s successor Donald Trump towards a more pro-Israel stance after he takes office, reported by Joyce Karam.

Joyce Karam also reported, “Robert Danin, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a former U.S. and Quartet official who worked on the Palestinian-Israeli issue until 2010 interprets the U.S. abstention as consistent with Obama’s approach. “The UN vote is a microcosm of the past eight years with the Obama administration” Danin says.”

The vast support for the vote at the UN Security Council is a sign of “a more isolated Israel on the international stage” says Yousef Munayyer, the Executive Director of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights.  At the same time, Munayyer sees little impact for the new resolution on the realities of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. “President Obama has given us the autopsy, but the cause of death is clear; Israeli settlement building.”


Experts also said it could immediately backfire. Hussein Ibish expects that “it will probably help push them (President-elect Donald Trump and Israeli PM Netanyahu) together and prompt more Israeli settlement activity with less US opposition” contending that “it's hard to see a positive outcome on the ground as a consequence.”

Positive and negative side of the Resolution

The positive side of the resolution is it enshrines the world’s disapproval of the settlements. A reversal would require a follow-up vote that avoids a veto from the US, Britain, China, France or Russia — a highly unlikely scenario given the current stalemate in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.


Talking about the positive side of the resolution, Ben White, freelance journalist, writer, researcher, human rights activist, specializing on Palestine, told Al-Jazeera: There is nothing new to the substance of UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which reaffirmed long-standing positions of the international community, including previous UNSC resolutions, about the illegality of Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory.


Nadia Hijab, executive director of Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network, notes the significance of paragraph 5, which calls on "all States … to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967". This, she told Al-Jazeera, "is effectively a call to cease trade, economic and financial transactions with the settlements". This is likely to boost growing efforts to subject Israel to various forms of boycotts, including the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign - especially since, as Hijab notes, "the settlements are an integral part of the Israeli economy".


Channel 2 journalist Meron Rapoport told Al-Jazeera, noting that while it is not clear what tangible impact it will have on Israel, the resolution "will surely limit Israel's freedom of manoeuvre".


It remains an open question, therefore, whether this resolution will lead to meaningful pressure on the Netanyahu government. While the vote in New York certainly constituted a diplomatic defeat for Israel, exactly what sort of victory it represents for the Palestinians remains to be seen, wrote Ben White in Al-Jazeera.


While writing in Al-Jazeera, Geoffrey Aronson, a specialist on Middle East Affairs, observed: The UN Settlement Resolution is too little and too late. “The international community has done nothing of substance in almost 50 years to constrain Israel's appetite for new territory in Palestinian areas conquered in June 1967,” he said and added, “UNSC Resolution 2334 joins an undistinguished list of long-forgotten efforts to end occupation and settlement, and more broadly to create a Palestinian state and fix Israel's place as an accepted and acknowledged part of the region.”


The same opinion was expressed by Linda S. Heard, an author and columnist specializing in Middle East affairs:”Israel’s settlement expansion across the West Bank and East Jerusalem has been censured by a Security Council resolution, but like so many others it will be filed away to gather dust. All it has achieved is to poke the bear into a rampage.


Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an internationally syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books and the founder of Let us see how he is evaluating the passing of the UN Security Council Resolution condemning the Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian territory.


What makes this particular resolution important? Baroud questioned and immediately replied, “First, the US neither vetoed the resolution nor threatened to use its veto power. Nor did it even seriously lobby, as it often does, to soften the wording in advance. Second, it is the first decisive and clear condemnation of Israel by the UNSC in nearly eight years — almost the entirety of US President Barack Obama’s terms in office. Third, the vote took place despite extraordinary Israeli pressure on the Obama administration, the forthcoming one of Donald Trump, and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi. Indeed, Egypt delayed the vote, before New Zealand, Senegal, Malaysia and Venezuela stepped up and put the resolution to a vote a day later.”

At the same time, he did not forget to mention: “Doubtless, the UN resolution — like all others — remains rather symbolic as long as there are no practical mechanisms to ensure the enforcement of international law. Not only will Israel not respect the UN’s will, it is already accelerating its settlement activities in defiance of that will.”


But there is some good sign in it: He said, “The resolution is a further affirmation that the international community is unconditionally on the side of Palestinians and, despite all the failures of the past, still advocates respect for international law.” (This article was published in Arab News)


The Guardian View On the US and Israel:

Late, but necessary – Editorial

Though there are both positive and negative aspects of the resolution and its impact and effect on the ground, The Guardian editorially observed:

 “The last-ditch intervention in the Israel-Palestine conflict by Barack Obama’s administration is imbued with a sense of eleventh-hour desperation. It is still worth assessing on its merits. Benjamin Netanyahu, settler movement leaders and others have already dismissed John Kerry’s speech on Wednesday as hostile to Israel, just as they did the UN Security Council resolution demanding a halt to all settlement in the occupied territories. But, as many within Israel and the Jewish diaspora have made clear, that is unfair. True, they are anti-settlement, anti-occupation and, in the case of Wednesday’s remarks, anti-Netanyahu – but also pro-Israel. As the US secretary of state observed, the growth of settlements is destroying the two-state solution, for so long viewed as the best way to defend Israel.” (The Guardian, editorial, 29 December, 2016)