Netanyahu wary ahead of imminent UN vote on settlement-building

Netanyahu wary ahead of imminent UN vote on settlement-building
The Israeli leader has a rocky relationship with the Obama administration and is concerned that Washington's power of veto may not come to its rescue this time.
4 min read
22 December, 2016
The Amona settlement was established in 1997 on private Palestinian-owned land [AFP]
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu appeared wary on Thursday ahead of a scheduled UN Security Council vote on a draft resolution calling for an immediate stop to settlement building in the West Bank.

In the early hours of Thursday, Netanyahu took to Twitter urging Washington to veto the draft resolution, a sign of seeming uncertainty from the Israeli prime minister that the Obama administration, with whom he has a rocky relationship, will vote in accordance with Israeli interests.

The vote is scheduled to take place at 20:00 GMT Thursday after Egypt began circulating the draft proposal on Wednesday.

In order for the draft resolution to pass, it requires nine votes in favour from the Security Council, and no vetoes by the US, France, Russia, Britain, or China, in order to be adopted.

The draft text states that the establishment of settlements in the West Bank has "no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law" and imperil the “viability” of a two-state solution.

Palestinians are seeking an independent state in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, territory captured by Israel during the 1967 war. Around 570,000 Israelis currently live in these areas.

Both the UN and the majority of countries view Israeli settlements in the West Bank as illegal.

However, although the Obama administration has criticised recent Israeli settlement activity, notably in relation to the controversial Amona settlement, in 2011 Washington notably vetoed a draft resolution criticising Israeli settlement practices.

All 14 other members of the UN Security Council backed that resolution.

Speaking at that time US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice said Washington’s decision to veto shouldn’t be “misunderstood” as illustrating US support for settlement activity. Instead Rice said that the veto was aimed at bringing both sides, Israeli and Palestinian, back to the negotiating table.

"Unfortunately, this draft resolution risks hardening the positions of both sides and could encourage the parties to stay out of negotiations," said Rice.

But Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian observer at the UN, dismissed Rice’s claims at that time, stating that Washington’s veto would only “encourage Israeli intransigence and impunity”.

Speaking to The New Arab, Ahmed al-Majdalani, a member of the Executive Committee of the PLO, said that although Washington usually stood with Israel in UN Security Council votes, he was hopeful that this time would be different.

The resolution not passing would constitute a “a disgrace” and could lead to it being presented once again, at a later date next year, al-Majdalani said. 

Analysts have suggested that Donald Trump's ascension to the White House is unlikely to bode well for Palestinian aspirations for statehood.

Settler leaders have greeted Trump's election victory with excitement and optimism, expectant that once he takes office the president-elect will look more favourably on their interests.

Trump has promised to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – rhetoric that has caused concern in Palestinian circles – and also recently appointed David Freedman, a pro-Israeli hardliner that has fundraised for settlement building – as Washington’s new ambassador to Israel.

Speaking on Israeli Army Radio on Thursday, Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, expressed hope that the Washington would veto the resolution adding that while its passing would not immediately alter realities on the ground it would provide Palestinians with greater leverage to pursue international sanctions against Israel, something he said would hinder peace talks.

Previous peace talks collapsed in 2014 after Israel suspended negotiations following the announcement of a unity agreement between Fatah – the dominant party in the PLO which governs areas of the West Bank – and Hamas – which holds sway in Gaza and is designated a terrorist group by Israel, the US, and UK.

In related developments on Thursday, a 19 year-old Palestinian was killed by Israeli forces when clashes broke out in the West Bank village of Kfar Hamra after locals protested the demolition of a Palestinian home in the area.

While Israeli re-settlement building is ongoing in areas of the West Bank, according to B’Tselem, an Israeli rights groups focused on raising awareness of human rights violations in the Occupied Territories, Israeli demolitions of Palestinian homes in the occupied territories have also increased significantly in 2016 from 2015.

Israel is regularly criticised by rights groups for its practice of demolishing Palestinian homes as a punitive measure, while simultaneously pursuing the construction of illegal settlements for Israeli citizens. 

Agencies contributed to this report