On December 23rd, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) passed a resolution condemning the construction of Israeli settlements, the first resolution to do so in thirty-six years. Resolutions against Israel sometimes seem to be a dime a dozen, but this one touched off furious debate. For the first time during his administration—and in a clear departure from the political status quo in regards to America’s relationship with Israel—President Obama chose to abstain from the vote, choosing not to veto the resolution. The other fourteen members of the Security Council voted in the affirmative, with Ambassador Samantha Power abstaining on behalf of the president. The move has drawn criticism from both Republicans and Democrats.
The settlements discussed are located in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, with some of them containing just a few families, and others large enough to support a university. Peace agreement talks have always been conducted with the understanding that Jewish areas of East Jerusalem, which fall under the category of disputed territories, would retain Israeli control, which makes this veto a departure from decades of political tradition.
The resolution pushes the hot button topic of Israeli settlements back into the limelight in the days leading up to President-Elect Trump’s inauguration. Political strategists say that the resolution has been considered since September, when both Hillary Clinton and Trump met with Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu in New York City.
The U.S. is one of the few countries in the world to consider the settlements “disputed” instead of “illegal.” That may seem like mere semantics, but it is a key distinction to make, especially in the realm of politics, where doublespeak and carefully chosen wording is de rigeur. But that subtle distinction seems to have changed with this resolution: for the first time in decades, the U.S. has abstained instead of vetoing. Some have claimed that it’s a final show of power from Obama, who has been facing down his lame duck status since the election, others that it’s a parting shot at Netanyahu, with whom Obama has had an incredibly fractious relationship. That is what Netanyahu seems to believe; shortly after the resolution, he accused Obama of colluding with Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and pushing the resolution to a vote.
The resolution demands that Israel “immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem.” This is a non-binding resolution, which means that it is not accompanied by any sanctions against Israel. However, that doesn’t mean Israel can simply ignore the resolution. Aeyal Gross, a law professor at Tel Aviv University, wrote in Haaretz that this resolution could easily lead the International Criminal Court (ICC) to be much harsher in their investigations of settlement construction now that they have what seems to be carte blanche from the UNSC. Palestinian leaders have already announced that they plan to use this resolution to leverage the ICC into criminal prosecution of Israeli leaders.
The settlements can be a conflicting topic, though for many, it’s black and white, either because they believe the settlements to be in clear violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which ensures protection for civilians living in a war zone, or because they feel that Israel possesses the land and should be able to construct settlements wherever they desire.
But whatever your feelings about the settlements, it’s tough to view this resolution favorably. As always, Israel is judged by an entirely different standard than the rest of the world, with more resolutions being passed against her than anyone else. In fact, even UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon agrees, and said earlier this month, “Decades of political maneuvering have created a disproportionate number of resolutions, reports, and committees against Israel. In many cases, instead of helping the Palestinian issue, this reality has foiled the ability of the UN to fulfill its role effectively.” For context, only twelve resolutions have been passed against North Korea during his tenure as Secretary General.
The UN Humans Rights Council has issued forty-five different resolutions condemning Israel. Meanwhile, in October of this year, the UNSC proposed two resolutions calling for humanitarian aid to Aleppo and condemning the human rights violations being committed by the Assad regime. The resolution also demanded an end to the money and weapons being sent to terror groups like Al-Qaeda, ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra. Members of all of these groups claim to be fighting with Syrian rebels for freedom when, in reality, they are taking advantage of the chaos and power vacuum to seize even more control. Though the Assad government massacres and tortures unknown numbers of civilians every day, the resolutions failed to pass, after being struck down by Russia and China.
Other countries who have been condemned by Human Rights Watch continue to rack up far less resolutions than Israel. Russia, who just voted to condemn Israeli settlements, has had only one resolution passed against them regarding their invasion of Ukraine and Crimea—and that was after seven failed attempts. Not only that, but Russia invaded Ukraine during the Sochi Olympics, with all of the world watching, and it still took seven attempts for a UN response. Putin’s government has also severely restricted freedom of expression and assassinated political opponents and journalists. Human Rights Watch has also condemned his treatment of the LGBT community: this year, the founder of an online support group for LGBT teens was charged with propaganda and taken to court. Additionally, palliative care in some regions of Russia is so terrible that almost thirty cancer patients committed suicide due to a lack of medical treatment. These are drops in the bucket, and Putin’s government is known to be one of the most corrupt and secretive currently operating.
China, another country who voted to condemn Israel and abstained from a resolution against Syria, has also been denounced by Human Rights Watch. They too, repress journalism and routinely violate freedom of information. Their track record regarding women’s rights is reprehensible too: this year, they jailed three women for distributing pamphlets that educated people about what constituted sexual assault. There was also a declaration in court that prosecution of cases of domestic violence against women should be tried while keeping in mind “mitigating factors” that might explain the husband’s behavior.
Part of the UN’s job is to pass resolutions, to enact sanctions and to condemn violations of international law. Other countries commit mass violations of human rights all too frequently: Assad tortures and murders defenseless children and the UNSC hems and haws over whether or not to condemn him. Putin’s government invades other countries and assassinates those who pose a significant threat and then calls foul on Israel. China implies that violence against women is acceptable as long as they were asking for it, and they are not denounced. So why does the UN only do their job when it’s Israel under the microscope? If they are going to condemn violence and penalize countries who violate the Geneva Convention, then they should actually do that, instead of using their commanding positions to decide who gets nailed to the wall and who is powerful enough to be allowed to walk away with bloodstained hands.