This article appeared in the Canberra Times on Jan. 2, 2017
Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop are to be admiringly applauded for demonstrating courageous and astute political leadership in making it clear that Australia would have opposed the appallingly flawed and one-sided United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334 on the Israeli-Palestinian issue that also epitomises the politicised, dysfunctional state of the UN.
They also understand that settlements in the disputed territories are just one of many issues to be addressed but only in direct, bilateral negotiations between the two parties, which the Israelis are keen to resume but the Palestinians refuse to join – a stance this dangerously counterproductive resolution will only reinforce.
Rushed to vote and passed on December 23 under peculiar circumstances with the urging of the Palestinian leadership, blessing of the Obama administration, reported guidance of Britain and enthusiastic co-sponsorship of New Zealand, it came at a time when much of the world was voicing disgust at UN ineffectiveness on the myriad crimes against humanity taking place in Aleppo and elsewhere in the Middle East.
The machinations and calculations that went into the wording and timing of the resolution expose it for what it was: a misguided attempt to use the UN to escalate international pressure against Israel to give in to Palestinian demands.
Similarly John Kerry’s speech last Wednesday, unveiling parameters for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, was one-sided, factually challenged and totally unhelpful. Besides the fact that making such policy statements are entirely inappropriate for a lame duck Secretary of State, it was a self-serving, condescending and meandering lecture. Kerry doubled down on the US abandonment of Israel at the Security Council as well as the Obama administration’s track record of rewarding Palestinian intransigence by blaming Israel overwhelmingly for a lack of progress towards peace.
No accountability or serious condemnation was suggested for the Palestinians persistent refusal to negotiate or failure to deliver counter offers to successive Israeli peace proposals in 2000, 2001 and 2008 where Israel offered far-ranging concessions on settlements, Jerusalem and refugees.
Touted by its Western supporters as a peacemaking initiative and a bulwark to secure the future of a two-state peace outcome, Resolution 2334 does neither.
On the contrary, it has made peacemaking between Israel and the Palestinians immeasurably more difficult by empowering the Palestinian strategy of refusing to negotiate with Israel, and “internationalising” the conflict – that is, bypassing negotiating entirely and leveraging international pressure to achieve Palestinian nationalistic and territorial objectives on their behalf and without having to accept Israel as a Jewish state, make genuine concessions or end the conflict.
The Palestinian strategy at the UN has always been about converting victimhood and grievance into political gain. In this regard, its approach to the Security Council is wholly consistent with the way it promotes its interests either directly or through Arab proxies in the UN General Assembly, the Human Rights Council, the cultural body UNESCO and the exclusively Palestinian refugee organisation UNRWA.
UNSC 2334 promotes the myth that “settlement growth” (including, as it says, “natural growth” – housing extensions built to allow for growing families) endangers the viability of a two-state outcome. In reality, settlements take up less than two per cent of the West Bank and growth is largely limited to within settlement boundaries.
It fails to distinguish between settlement blocs near Jerusalem and Tel Aviv – where most Israeli settlers live and all serious observers concede will remain part of Israel under any conceivable two state outcome – and isolated outposts. It makes no mention of mutually agreed land swaps – a principle that the Palestinians have essentially accepted in prior negotiations.
Even worse, it includes Jewish neighbourhoods in Jerusalem, home to hundreds of thousands of people and, absurdly, even the Jewish Quarter of the Old City and the Western Wall of the biblical Jewish temple, to be “Palestinian territory occupied since 1967”.
In short, the language of Resolution 2334 is a major setback for peace because it erases hard-earned compromises on a number of issues made in previous rounds of negotiations.
Former Israeli ambassador to Canada Alan Baker, one of the drafters of the 1993 Oslo Accords, asked: “Why would the Palestinians want to negotiate with Israel on these things if they’ve got a Security Council resolution that basically determines that east Jerusalem and all the territories belong to them?
“Why should they go and negotiate – and compromise, because negotiating includes compromising? Why should they do this when they know that they can run to the international community and get whatever they want?”
Indeed, as Baker is aware, by making explicit reference to the 1967 lines, the resolution also violates the Oslo Accords – a binding piece of international law signed by Israel and the PLO, which made clear that the issue of borders and the character of the Palestinian governance would be a matter subject to negotiation alone.
Meanwhile, this resolution undermines Resolution 242, passed after exhaustive deliberation between the world powers in the aftermath of the 1967 war. The wisdom of 242 was that it made space for peace between Israel and its neighbours possible by leaving the details to be sorted out in direct negotiations between the parties themselves. The result, as we know, was two successful peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan.
By prejudging the outcome of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, Resolution 2334 betrays the trust between Israel and the US, making Israel feel less secure about taking risks for peace; it violates previous signed agreements and weakens Resolution 242, giving Israel little incentive to trust that the international community will ensure the security arrangements of any future peace agreement will be respected; it deprives Israel of valuable bargaining chips that the Palestinian leadership can use to sell a peace agreement to their people; and it drives a wedge into the link between Palestinian statehood and the end of the conflict.
The damage of Resolution 2334 is not irreversible but will pose a formidable challenge to peacemaking now and in the future.
Dr Rubenstein is executive director of the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council. He formerly lectured in Middle East politics at Monash University.