This article was originally published on Dec. 28, 2017 in the Huffington Post.
Friday’s UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution censuring Israel will not resurrect dead Palestinians or Israelis from wars past, nor will it change the near-term prospect for peace. But despite cynical criticism from the left, the UNSC resolution condemning Israel’s illegal settlements (a.k.a. colonies) is still very significant.
One cannot discount the symbolic importance of such a resolution – foremost for Israel. Israel’s right-wing government can have virtually everything it wants via military might… except legitimacy for its actions. Netanyahu is furious, not because the resolution will slow the construction and expansion of Israel’s provocative settlements, but because the legitimacy of Israel’s actions has been rejected by the world’s community of nations.
What happened at the UNSC on Friday was no Muslim or Arab “gang up” on Israel. The resolution passed 14-0, with the US abstaining. The sponsors of the resolution were New Zealand, Venezuela, Senegal and Malaysia. The other members supporting were China, Russia, the UK, France, Spain, Japan, Ukraine, Angola, Egypt, and Uruguay. Ukraine’s Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman is the country’s first Jewish prime minister, with family in the Israeli city of Ashdod, yet even his country joined this stinging reproach of Israel.
Given such universal support, it is hard for anyone – foremost Israel – to interpret this resolution as anything other than broad-based philosophical disagreement with Israel’s actions towards the Palestinians. For a country craving legitimacy for its actions, that smarts.
The resolution has symbolic importance for the US as well. With this abstention, the Obama administration indirectly declares that its policies of the past 8 years were mislaid. It was a tacit admission that years of opposition to Israeli settlements – unsupported by any concrete action – were a mistake.
Beyond the symbolic significance, the resolution contains content which is terribly important for other reasons. The first operative paragraph of the resolution states that Israeli settlements have “no legal validity and constitute a flagrant violation under international law.” Such language will most certainly give new momentum to the Palestinians’ pending case against Israel’s irksome settlements at the International Criminal Court (ICC.) Given the proven international consensus, the prosecution at The Hague may be much more willing to escalate the case to a full investigation – one which could lead to conviction for a war crime.
The resolution is also perhaps the first formal Security Council admission that the long sought “two-state solution” may be out of reach. With well over 500,000 Israeli colonists settled illegally on occupied land in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, pundits have questioned the viability of the two-state solution for years. Diplomats, on the other hand, seemed to proceed as if such a solution were still largely possible. The resolution’s language makes clear that even diplomats now recognize that the two-state solution is in peril, and largely because Israel’s actions are “entrenching a one-State reality.” When diplomats do make this call, Israel will face drastically new realities, both domestically, and diplomatically. And under such new realities, it will be far easier for the international community to consider crippling diplomatic and economic sanctions.
Other passages are also significant. The resolution’s fifth operative paragraph calls countries to draw a distinction in their dealings between Israel proper, and the territories that Israel occupied in 1967. This is a clear nod to Europe’s ongoing attempts to impose economic penalties on Israeli-owned businesses operating illegally on Palestinian land in the West Bank. From economic penalties on these illicit operations, it is a short step to more serious forms of economic pressure.
The resolution also clearly establishes “moral equivalence” in the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Israel, for its part, has often tried to argue that its military actions in the Palestinian territories are defensive and limited. But the resolution makes no such distinction: both the preamble and the operative section of the resolution condemn “all acts of violence against civilians, including acts of terror, as well as all acts of provocation, incitement and destruction.”
Ultimately, the significance of the resolution is understood simply by the fact that Israel so vehemently opposed the resolution. Between its machinations to get Egypt to delay the resolution on Thursday, and its appeal to get president-elect Donald Trump to intervene, Israel’s abhorrence of the implications of the resolution was clear.
There are good reasons for Palestinians and many others to be frustrated with international mechanisms for social justice. But what the world witnessed at the UNSC on Friday may be a case of Martin Luther King Jr.’s observation that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”