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Israel hits back strongly after landmark UN vote on its settlements

The vote sparked furtive Security Council debate on what else might be achieved for the Palestinians before Obama leaves office.

Israel's prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the United Nations General Assembly in September.
Israel's prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the United Nations General Assembly in September.
Image: Richard Drew/PA

JORDAN HAS WELCOMED the UN Security Council resolution demanding a halt to Israeli settlements, saying the momentous vote paved a way for a two-state solution.

The 15-member council passed the resolution yesterday, despite efforts by Israel and US President-elect Donald Trump to block the text.

In a rare and momentous step, the United States instead abstained, enabling the adoption of the first UN resolution since 1979 to condemn Israel over its settlement policy. New Zealand has defended its role in tabling the motion.

Jordan’s information minister Mohammad al-Momani said today:

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.

Some 430,000 Israeli settlers currently live in the West Bank and a further 200,000 Israelis live in East Jerusalem, which Palestinians see as the capital of their future state.

The resolution demands that “Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem.”

It states that Israeli settlements have “no legal validity” and are “dangerously imperilling the viability of the two-state solution”.

United Nations Syria The UN Security Council votes on humanitarian aid for Syria last Monday. Source: Seth Wenig/PA

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.

The Middle East peace process has been comatose since a US initiative to re-launch peace talks collapsed in April 2014.

New Zealand

New Zealand said the resolution condemning Israeli settlements should have come as no surprise to the Jewish State. Israel retaliated by recalling its ambassador to Wellington.

There was applause in the UN chamber when the first resolution by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) in more than 38 years to condemn Israel over its settlement policy was passed 14-0.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s spokesman Ofir Gendelman tweeted that their ambassadors to New Zealand and Senegal, who co-sponsored the resolution, were to return to Israel immediately.

Tweet by @Ofir Gendelman Source: Ofir Gendelman/Twitter

“These steps are taken against countries that have tabled the draft resolution to the UNSC and have diplomatic relations with Israel,” he added.

New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully said the decision should have been no surprise to Israel which knew Wellington’s position long before the UN vote.

McCully told AFP:

Israel has informed us of their decision to recall their ambassador to New Zealand for consultations.

Repercussions

The resolution could spur moves toward new terms to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but it also poses dangers for the United Nations with the incoming Trump administration.

It also may harden Israel’s attitude toward concessions.

The Obama administration’s decision to abstain and allow the UN’s most powerful body to approve a long-sought resolution calling Israeli settlements “a flagrant violation under international law” was a sharp rebuke to a longstanding ally.

America’s Irish-born UN ambassador Samantha Power said:

It is because this resolution reflects the facts on the ground – and is consistent with US policy across Republican and Democratic administrations throughout the history of the state of Israel – that the United States did not veto it.

She cited a 1982 statement by then-President Ronald Reagan that the United States “will not support the use of any additional land for the purpose of settlements” – and that:

settlement activity is in no way necessary for the security of Israel.

Friday’s Security Council vote was anything but routine for Washington, however, which traditionally vetoes all resolutions related to the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict on grounds that differences must be solved through negotiations.

Obama US Israel President Barack Obama meets Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office on 9 November 2015. Source: Andrew Harnik

Icy

It was the first resolution on the conflict approved during President Barack Obama’s nearly eight years in office and shone a spotlight on his icy relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The decision followed months of intensely secret deliberations in Washington, a spate of fresh Israeli settlement announcements that sparked anger from American officials, and recent attempts by Israel to legalise thousands of homes built on privately owned Palestinian land.

After Egypt postponed a scheduled vote on the resolution on Thursday, reportedly under pressure from US President-elect Donald Trump, four new sponsors pushed it through – Malaysia, New Zealand, Venezuela and Senegal, each representing a different region, reflecting wide support for the measure.

Trump demanded that Obama veto the resolution and tweeted after the vote, “As to the UN, things will be different after January 20″ — when Trump takes office.

Consequences

For Trump to overturn the resolution, it require a new resolution with support from at least nine members in the 15-member Security Council and no veto by Russia, China, Britain or France, all of whom supported Friday’s vote.

Republicans threatened consequences.

Senator Lindsay Graham said he would “form a bipartisan coalition to suspend or significantly reduce” funding for the UN.

He added that countries receiving US aid could also be penalised for supporting the resolution. Under UN rules, failure to pay dues leads to the loss of voting privileges in the General Assembly.

Mideast Israel People carry a statue of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after it was placed without permit at Rabin square in Tel Aviv on Tuesday 6 December. Source: AP/Press Association Images

Israeli-Palestinian issue

The vote on settlements sparked behind-the-scenes discussion in the usually divided Security Council on what else might be achieved on the Israeli-Palestinian issue while Obama is still in the White House.

New Zealand has been pressing for the council to consider a resolution that would set out the parameters for a settlement of the conflict, and its draft ideas remain on the table.

But Israel’s UN Ambassador Danny Danon warned the council after the vote that the resolution would not spur peace efforts. He said:

By voting ‘yes’ in favor of this resolution, you have in fact voted ‘no’. You voted ‘no’ to negotiations.
You voted ‘no’ to progress, and a chance for better lives for Israelis and Palestinians. And you voted ‘no’ to the possibility of peace.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately retaliated against some of the nations that proposed Friday’s resolution.

He recalled his nation’s ambassadors to New Zealand and Senegal for consultations, cancelled a planned January visit to Israel by Senegal’s foreign minister and ended Israeli aid programs to the West African nation.

In a statement, Netanyahu’s office said:

Israel rejects this shameful anti-Israel resolution at the U.N. and will not abide by its terms.

The Israeli leader blamed Obama for failing to “protect Israel against this gang-up at the UN” and even colluding with its detractors.

He said:

Israel looks forward to working with President-elect Trump and with all our friends in Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, to negate the harmful effects of this absurd resolution.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat hailed the result as a “victory for the justice of the Palestinian cause.”

He said Trump’s choice was now between “international legitimacy” or siding with “settlers and extremists.”

Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian UN ambassador, urged the Security Council to “stand firm by this decision” and “not be cowed by negative threats or spin”.

© – AFP, 2016 with reporting from AP.

Read: America abstains as the UN condemns Israeli settlements

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