Israel gets thumped over settlements
The United States has long used its veto power in the Security Council to shield Israel from condemnation for its settlement program. But that didn’t prevent Israel from getting a walloping at the press stakeout outside the Security Council today. Several regional groups, including the Security Council’s four European powers, denounced Israel’s construction of new ...
The United States has long used its veto power in the Security Council to shield Israel from condemnation for its settlement program. But that didn't prevent Israel from getting a walloping at the press stakeout outside the Security Council today.
The United States has long used its veto power in the Security Council to shield Israel from condemnation for its settlement program. But that didn’t prevent Israel from getting a walloping at the press stakeout outside the Security Council today.
Several regional groups, including the Security Council’s four European powers, denounced Israel’s construction of new settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, saying they are imperiling prospects for a two-state political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis and undermining hopes of a return to negotiations. The U.N. Non-Aligned Movement, the Arab Group, and IBSA (comprised of India, Brazil, and South Africa) also delivered statements blaming the Israeli government for its settlement policies.
Their remarks followed a briefing by a top U.N. official, Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, who expressed "serious concern" over the announcement of several new housing projects in the West Bank and East Jerusalem that run "contrary to international law," and the demolition of some 57 Palestinian buildings. He said it was also "deeply troubling" that attacks against Palestinian civilians and mosques by Israeli settlers had become "a systematic occurrence." Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu forcefully condemned the violent attacks, and vowed to stop them, according to Fernandez-Taranco.
But the tough criticism reflected frustration with the stalled peace process and the United States’ refusal, through its veto power, to contemplate a role for the U.N. Security Council in pressuring Israel to change its behavior. It also suggested that that the majority of U.N. members are positioning themselves to place most of the blame on Israel for a breakdown in peace talks with the Palestinians, who themselves have refused to hold direct talks with Netanyahu’s government until it halts the settlements and accepts a series of other conditions.
"Maybe [Israel] needs a gentle prod from the international community, including the Security Council, from time to time," said Vitaly Churkin, the Russian ambassador to the United Nations. It is "so very frustrating … that we cannot do anything on the Israeli-Palestinian issue."
The Obama administration maintains that Israel’s ongoing settlement activities are illegitimate, but in February it vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution denouncing Israeli settlements on the ground and made clear that it prefers differences between the Israelis and Palestinians be resolved through direct talks, not by Security Council action. It has also blamed the Palestinians for jeopardizing the prospects for new peace talks by pursuing the statehood bid, including the decision to secure recognition as a state in the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
On Sept. 23, the Middle East Quartet — which includes the United States, Russia, the European Union, and the United Nations — outlined a road map that envisioned a resumption of talks between the Israelis and Palestinians within one month, and the formulation of a set of comprehensive peace proposals within three months. The first deadline passed without an agreement; the three-month mark comes later this week.
"Israel’s continuing announcements to accelerate the construction of settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, including East Jerusalem, send a devastating message. We call on the Israeli government to reverse these steps," Britain’s U.N. ambassador Mark Lyall-Grant said on behalf of the council’s European Union members. Joined by representatives of France, Germany, and Portugal, Lyall-Grant said "the viability of the Palestinian state that we want to see and the two-state solution that is essential for Israel’s long-term security are threatened by the systematic and deliberate expansion of settlements. Settlements are illegal under international law and represent a serious blow to the Quartets’ efforts to restart peace negotiations."
The United States and Israel did not take up the microphone outside the Security Council to respond to the charges. But an Israel spokeswoman later reacted sharply to the onslaught of criticism in a statement.
"This is a badge of shame for the international community. Instead of focusing on the pressing issues before it, the Security Council chooses to focus on settlements," said Karean Peretz, spokeswoman for the Israeli mission to the United Nations. "While innocent civilians are slaughtered in Syria, terrorist groups operate freely in Gaza, U.N. forces are being attacked in Lebanon and Iran seeks nuclear weapons, the Security Council remains silent and paralyzed." Peretz said that "the main obstacle to peace, has been, and remains, the Palestinians’ claim to the so-called right of return and its refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state."
Payton Knopf, a spokesman for the U.S. mission, had this to say: "The only way to resolve the outstanding issues between Israelis and Palestinians is through serious and substantive direct negotiations. We believe Security Council action on final status issues would only harden the positions of both sides and make the resumption of negotiations more difficult."
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Colum Lynch was a staff writer at Foreign Policy between 2010 and 2022. Twitter: @columlynch
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