UN declares illegal Israeli settlements impediments to peace

Israel cannot have peace and international legitimacy while occupying someone else's land. This has always been the U.S. position.

Photo Credit: Prime Minister of Israel (Creative Commons)
Photo Credit: Prime Minister of Israel (Creative Commons)

WASHINGTON, December 27, 2016 — When the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution declaring Israel’s  construction of settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem “a major obstacle” to peace, it was not saying anything new.

This has been the position of both the U.N. and every U.S. administration, Republican and Democrat, since Israel first occupied this territory after the 1967 war.

In the past, the U.S. has vetoed such resolutions, even though they were fully consistent with U.S. policy. It was the veto of resolutions with which we fully agreed that was irrational, not our abstention in this instance.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has expressed outrage at President Obama, blaming him personally for the resolution. Morton Klein, the president of the Zionist Organization of America, called Obama an “anti-Semite.” In an unusual assault on a U.S. president, Netanyahu said that the Obama administration “not only failed to protect Israel against this gang-up at the U.N., it colluded with it behind the scenes.”

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Netanyahu announced that Israel was cutting off $8 million in contributions to the U.N. and reviewing whether to allow its personnel to enter Israel.

Israel is often referred to as our major ally in the Middle East. What this means is less than clear.  Does an ally take only our money and reject our advice? In September, the U.S. signed an unprecedented pact with Israel that will provide it with the largest amount of military aid ever awarded, $38 billion over 10 years, with promises of the latest in fighter jets, missile defense systems and cutting-edge technology.

This aid to a country which has a nuclear arsenal and is already the most powerful state in the region came with no strings attached.

For Netanyahu to lash out personally at a U.S. president who had only recently agreed to provide him with unprecedented aid is beyond what “ungrateful” might describe. If he is reconsidering Israel’s small contribution to the U.N., perhaps Washington should reconsider the $38 billion, which our taxpayers can ill afford, particularly if the government which receives it pursues policies which are both unjust and dangerous to U.S. interests in the region.

When he signed the aid agreement to Israel, President Obama used the occasion to press for Israel and the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table. Eventually, he said, two independent states must emerge, one for Israelis, one for Palestinians.

The Israelis, for their part, eagerly accepted the financial commitment, but continued to pursue policies opposed by every U.S. administration in the past. Today, 400,000 Israelis live in the West Bank on land that the Palestinians seek for a future state east of the line formed after the 1967 war. An additional 200,000 Israelis live in East Jerusalem, which Palestinians hope will become the capital of their future state. Most nations consider the settlements illegal. U.S. diplomats characterize them as illegitimate and say they exacerbate tensions.

Twice, the Obama administration has made concerted attempts to broker peace negotiations. The most recent, involving nine months of intense diplomacy by Secretary of State John Kerry, collapsed in 2014. Throughout the year, as Israeli settlement building grew, the U.S. has been increasingly vocal in its exasperation. The State Department has issued several sharp criticisms of settlement construction, in July calling it “provocative and counterproductive.”

Since then, more than 2,600 housing units have been built in the settlements.

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The current Israeli government has, in effect, rejected a two-state solution. Members of the Netanyahu government publicly call for annexing the occupied territories. A future in which Israeli and Palestinian states can live peacefully side by side, says Secretary of  State Kerry, “is now in jeopardy, with terrorism, violence, and incitement continuing, and unprecedented steps to expand settlements being advanced by enemies of the two-state solution. That is why we cannot in good conscience stand in the way of a resolution at the United Nations that makes it clear that both sides must act now to preserve the possibility of peace.”

In response to the U.N. resolution, Israel’s government said it would move ahead with thousands of new homes in disputed areas and warned nations against further action, declaring that Israel “does not turn the other cheek.” The Jerusalem municipal government said that it intends to approve 600 new housing units in the predominantly Palestinian eastern section of the city.

Many Israelis, concerned about the future of their country, oppose the West Bank settlements and compare the conditions of Palestinians living under occupation to blacks in apartheid South Africa. Alon Liel, a former Israeli ambassador to South Africa and a former director-general of the Israel Foreign Ministry, declares:

“Many of us tend to believe that the conflict can be managed forever and Israel no longer has a ‘Palestinian problem.’ However, this is pure deception.

“The continuing settlement expansion threatens to make a two-state solution to the conflict impossible. Israel is sliding into a situation where, short of apartheid or expulsion of the Palestinians, a one-state solution with equal rights for all would become the only possible way out of the conflict.”

Another Israeli ambassador to South Africa, Ilan Barusch, resigned in 2011 because he had “a hard time defending the policies of Israel’s current government.” Henry Siegman, a former director of the American Jewish Congress, says that Israel’s settlements have created an “irreversible colonial project” and involves having Israel “cross the threshold from the only democracy in the Middle East to the only apartheid regime in the Western world.”

Denial of self-determination and Israeli citizenship to Palestinians amounts to “double disenfranchisement,” which, when based on ethnicity, amounts to racism, in Siegman’s view. Reserving democracy for privileged citizens and keeping others “behind checkpoints and barbed wire fences”‘is the opposite of democracy.

Recently, hundreds of Israeli artists and intellectuals urged Jews around the world to challenge the Israeli occupation in an open letter. It declares in part, “The prolonged occupation is inherently oppressive for Palestinians and fuels mutual bloodshed. It undermines the moral and democratic fabric of the State of Israel.” Among the signatories are authors David Grossman and Amos Oz, Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman and 20 former Israeli ambassadors.

Israel cannot have peace and international legitimacy while occupying someone else’s land. This has always been the U.S. position. Not vetoing a U.N. resolution which simply restates this long-held U.S. position should not be controversial.

In the current war against ISIS, U.S. support for the Israeli occupation is used as a recruiting tool by Islamic extremists. King Abdullah II of Jordan says ISIS will be more easily defeated if the Israel-Palestine dispute is resolved. Is Israel only an “ally” when it comes to receiving American aid, or will it also be an “ally” when it comes to advancing American interests, and justice, in the region?

We have heard Netanyahu’s response. But there are other Israeli voices to be heard. President Obama waited until his last days to take any action concerning the Israeli occupation. Donald Trump should think carefully before he embraces an occupation which can only lead to more trouble in an already troubled region.

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Allan C. Brownfeld
Received B.A. from the College of William and Mary, J.D. from the Marshall-Wythe School of Law of the College of William and Mary, and M.A. from the University of Maryland. Served as a member of the faculties of St. Stephen's Episcopal School, Alexandria, Virginia and the University College of the University of Maryland. The recipient of a Wall Street Journal Foundation Award, he has written for such newspapers as The Houston Press, The Washington Evening Star, The Richmond Times Dispatch, and The Cincinnati Enquirer. His column appeared for many years in Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. His articles have appeared in The Yale Review, The Texas Quarterly, Orbis, Modern Age, The Michigan Quarterly, The Commonweal and The Christian Century. His essays have been reprinted in a number of text books for university courses in Government and Politics. For many years, his column appeared several times a week in papers such as The Washington Times, The Phoenix Gazette and the Orange County Register. He served as a member of the staff of the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, as Assistant to the research director of the House Republican Conference and as a consultant to members of the U.S. Congress and to the Vice President. He is the author of five books and currently serves as Contributing Editor of The St. Croix Review, Associate Editor of The Lincoln Review and editor of Issues.