UN passes anti-settlement resolution, US abstains

The United Nations Security Council meeting at U.N. Headquarters in New York, Dec. 21, 2016. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)


(JTA) — The U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution condemning Israeli settlements, with the United States abstaining.

The resolution was adopted Friday afternoon with 14 votes in favor and only the U.S. abstention. It called Israeli settlements “a flagrant violation of international law” that damage the prospects of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Sustained applause greeted the passage of the resolution.

American presidents have long protected Israel from extreme censure at the United Nations. As recently as 2011, Obama vetoed a similar resolution on settlements that like this one was adamantly opposed by Israel.

Samantha Power, the American U.N. envoy, in a lengthy explanation of the American vote, said the resolution is consistent with longstanding U.S. policy opposing Israeli settlements and accurately reflects the facts on the ground.

“The United States has been sending a message that the settlements must stop privately and publicly for for decades,” Power said. “Our vote today is fully in line with the bipartisan history of how presidents have approached this issue.”

Power said the United States could not support the resolution outright because it ignores other relevant issues and because Israel is often mistreated at the United Nations. She talked at length about the latter sentiment.

“The simple truth is for as long as Israel has been a member of this institution, Israel has been treated differently from other members of the United Nations,” the ambassador said.

Power emphasized that the abstention did not reflect any change in the American commitment to Israeli security.

“Our commitment to that security has never wavered and never will,” she said.

Israel was defiant in its reaction to the resolution and the U.S. vote.

“Israel rejects this shameful anti-Israel resolution at the UN and will not abide by its terms,” a statement from the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. “At a time when the Security Council does nothing to stop the slaughter of half a million people in Syria, it disgracefully gangs up on the one true democracy in the Middle East, Israel, and calls the Western Wall ‘occupied territory.’

“The Obama administration not only failed to protect Israel against this gang-up at the UN, it colluded with it behind the scenes. 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.

Speaking to the Security Council, Israel’s U.N. envoy, Danny Danon, described the resolution as “evil” and likened it to condemning Americans for building in Washington or the French for building in Paris.

“This resolution today will be added to the long and shameful list of anti-Israel U.N. resolutions,” Danon said. “Instead of charting a course forward,  you are sending a message to the Palestinians that they should continue on the path of terrorism and incitement, that they should continue to hold people hostage, that they should continue to seek meaningless statements from the international community.”

The resolution was introduced by New Zealand, Venezuela, Malaysia and Senegal after a similar resolution, introduced by Egypt in coordination with the Palestinians, was withdrawn on Thursday amid intense pressure from Israel and President-elect Donald Trump.

On Facebook, Trump wrote that the resolution was “extremely unfair.”

“As the United States has long maintained, peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians will only come through direct negotiations between the parties, and not through the imposition of terms by the United Nations. This puts Israel in a very poor negotiating position and is extremely unfair to all Israelis,” he wrote.

Several U.S. lawmakers also criticized the American abstention. Sen. Charles Schumer and Rep. Nita Lowey, both New York Democrats, and Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., all issued statements criticizing the Obama administration.

“It is extremely frustrating, disappointing and confounding that the Administration has failed to veto this resolution,” said Schumer, the incoming Senate minority leader. “Whatever one’s views are on settlements, the U.N. is the wrong forum to settle these issues.”

The resolution and the U.S. vote drew differing reactions from American Jewish groups.

The American Jewish Committee in a statement said it was “deeply disappointed that the United States chose to abstain on a U.N. Security Council resolution today which singled out Israel for condemnation.”

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the Jewish community’s foreign policy umbrella group, issued a scathing denunciation of the resolution and the American vote.

“There is no justification or explanation that validates the United States failure to veto the one-sided, offensive resolution adopted by the Security Council today,” said a statement attributed from the Presidents Conference chairman, Stephen Greenberg, and its executive vice chairman, Malcolm Hoenlein. “The United States vote will be seen as a betrayal of the fundamentals of the special relationship that will nevertheless continue to mark the close ties between the peoples of the two countries.”

Liberal Jewish groups issued statements supporting the vote and the American acquiescence in its passage. J Street, the dovish pro-Israel lobby, welcomed the resolution, as did the New Israel Fund. The progressive Zionist group Ameinu called it a “reasonable response” to the situation on the ground.

“The resolution is consistent with longstanding bipartisan American policy, which includes strong support for the two-state solution, and clear opposition to irresponsible and damaging actions, including Palestinian incitement and terror and Israeli settlement expansion and home demolitions,” J Street said.

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