Israel Is Still Struggling to Survive UN Bullying and Diplomatic Setbacks

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses reporters on June 27, 2016. Flickr/U.S. Department of State

Trump has made public his support for Israel, but an improved relationship won't ease the restrictions set by UN Resolution 2344.

Three months ago, on December 23, 2017, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 2334, dealing Israel a significant diplomatic defeat. The resolution in essence provides that all Israeli settlements in “Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem” are “flagrantly” illegal. The resolution passed 14–0. The United States, which historically has protected Israel in the security council, abstained in one of the final significant acts of the Obama administration. Rather than promote the Middle East peace process, in the time since its passage, it has become apparent that Resolution 2344 has further diminished the likelihood of success on that front. The resolution is also a long term diplomatic and legal setback for Israel that will be difficult to repeal.

What Resolution 2344 Actually Says

The text of the resolution:

1. Reaffirms that the establishment by Israel of settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-State solution and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace;

2. Reiterates its demand that Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, and that it fully respect all of its legal obligations in this regard;

3. Underlines that it will not recognize any changes to the 4 June 1967 lines, including with regard to Jerusalem, other than those agreed by the parties through negotiations;

4. Stresses that the cessation of all Israeli settlement activities is essential for salvaging the two-State solution, and calls for affirmative steps to be taken immediately to reverse the negative trends on the ground that are imperilling the two-State solution;

5. Calls upon all States, bearing in mind paragraph 1 of this resolution, to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967;

The authors of the resolution purported to “balance” its one-sided approach to Israel’s settlements, many of which are in the capital city of Jerusalem, with boilerplate language urging both sides to prevent “acts of violence” and “terror.”

It is important to note that the UN Security Council acted under Chapter VI of the UN Charter “Pacific Settlement of Disputes” in passing Resolution 2334. The resolution is consistent with action taken under Article 33 of the charter: “The parties to any dispute, the continuance of which is likely to endanger the maintenance of international peace and security, shall, first of all, seek a solution by negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, resort to regional agencies or arrangements, or other peaceful means of their own choice. The Security Council shall, when it deems necessary, call upon the parties to settle their dispute by such means.”

Contrast Resolution 2344, a call upon the parties to settle their dispute, with the UN Security Council’s police power under Chapter VII, Article 42 to “take such action by air, sea, or land forces as may be necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security. Such action may include demonstrations, blockade and other operations by air, sea, or land forces of Members of the United Nations.”

It is almost certain that in time, and with another U.S. administration that, like the Obama administration, is indifferent to America’s ally Israel, the Security Council will seek to build on Resolution 2334 and move from a Chapter VI action against Israel to a Chapter VII action. In such a case, a resolution could involve imposing binding sanctions or even blockade or embargo Israel in retaliation for its settlement policies. The point of such a move would be to further isolate Israel diplomatically and economically and, thereby, to bring unbearable pressure on Israel to accede to UN Security Council demands on borders and the two-state solution.

Five Reasons Why Resolution 2334 Matters

There are five key reasons why Resolution 2334 matters to the United States, Israel and the “peace process.”

First, the specific reference to “occupied” East Jerusalem in the resolution includes the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City. By taking such action, the UN has effectively denied a Jewish connection to Judaism’s holiest site. The Palestinian Authority has taken this exact position, as did Jerusalem’s prior Islamic rulers for over a millennium. Such a result will never be accepted by Israel or its people. In this sense, the UN’s action is an affront to the very essence of the Jewish state.

Second, Resolution 2334 will significantly reduce the chances of a negotiated settlement between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, because it has removed negotiating room from the parties by stating that Israel’s settlements have “no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law.” The resolution purports to leave space for talks by stating there will be no changes to the June 4, 1967 borders “other than those agreed by the parties through negotiations.” But with the security council having already determined that there will not be changes to the pre-1967 borders, what incentive is there for the Palestinians to agree to anything else through negotiation?