UN Council approves watered-down statement opposing Israeli settlements
The UN Security Council unanimously approved a watered-down statement strongly opposing Israel’s continued construction and expansion of settlements Monday. The vote came after high-stakes negotiations by the Biden administration succeeded in derailing a legally binding resolution that would have demanded a halt to Israeli settlement activity.
The Palestinian-backed draft resolution was the subject of frantic talks by senior Biden administration officials including Secretary of States Antony Blinken with Palestinian, Israeli and United Arab Emirates leaders. Those discussions culminated in a deal Sunday to forego it in favor of a weaker presidential statement that is not legally binding, according to multiple diplomats familiar with the situation.
The deal averted a potential diplomatic crisis, with the US almost certainly vetoing the resolution, which would have angered Palestinian supporters at a time when the US and its Western allies are trying to gain international support against Russia for its war with Ukraine. The war marked its one-year anniversary of President Vladimir Putin's invasion this week.
To avoid a vote on the draft resolution, the diplomats said the US managed to convince both Israel and the Palestinians to agree in principle to a six-month freeze in any unilateral action they might take.
On the Israeli side, that would mean a commitment to not expanding settlements until at least August, according to the diplomats. On Monday, the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would not greenlight any new wildcat settlements in the West Bank beyond nine outposts that it approved retroactively earlier this month.
On the Palestinian side, the diplomats said it would mean a commitment until August not to pursue action against Israel at the UN and other international bodies such as the World Court, the International Criminal Court and the UN Human Rights Council.
The Palestinian push for a resolution came as Israel’s new right-wing government has reaffirmed its commitment to construct new settlements in the West Bank and expand its authority on land the Palestinians seek for a future state.
Israel captured the West Bank, along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, in the 1967 Mideast war. The United Nations and most of the international community consider Israeli settlements illegal and an obstacle to ending the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Some 700,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank and Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.
The presidential statement does not condemn Israeli settlement activity or demand a halt. It does condemn “all acts of violence against civilians, including acts of terrorism.”
On settlements, the Security Council “strongly opposes all unilateral measures that impede peace including … Israeli construction and expansion of settlements, confiscation of Palestinians’ land, and the `legalization’ of settlement outposts, demolition of Palestinians’ homes and displacement of Palestinian civilians.”
The council also expressed “deep concern and dismay with Israel’s announcement on Feb. 12, 2023, announcing further construction and expansion of settlements and the `legalization’ of settlement outposts.”
Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian UN ambassador, told reporters: “The fact that we have a united front … is a step in the right direction.”
UAE Ambassador Lana Nusseibeh, the council’s Arab representative who sponsored the resolution, commended the US role and said the statement is “the first output from the Security Council in six years on the situation in Palestine.”
“I think it has a strong unified signal from the council that they want to see de-escalation, dialogue and focus on political parameters to (end) a longstanding conflict,” she said.
In December 2016, the Security Council demanded that Israel “immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem.” It stressed that halting settlement activities “is essential for salvaging the two-state solution.”
That resolution was adopted after President Barack Obama’s administration abstained in the vote, a reversal of the United States’ longstanding practice of protecting its close ally Israel from action at the United Nations, including by vetoing Arab-supported resolutions.