On December 23, the UN Security Council (UNSC) passed a resolution critical of Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. While the resolution itself is little more than a watered down version of past resolutions, the Israeli government’s reaction to it has been remarkable. The temper tantrum will do little more than isolate Israel from the rest of the world.
President Barack Obama’s decision to abstain from voting and allow the resolution through deviated from his usual staunch support of Israel. During his presidency, Obama has given Israel $24 billion in military aid; he recently signed a record $38 billion aid package for the country. Obama also vetoed every previous resolution critical of Israel. In contrast, George W. Bush allowed six resolutions criticizing Israel to pass the UNSC and Ronald Reagan allowed twenty-one.
Obama’s nearly unconditional support for Israel did not, however, shield him from the rage of its politicians and loudest supporters. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Obama of colluding against Israel and even enlisted President-Elect Donald Trump to try and stop the resolution. Trump ominously promised on Twitter that “things would be different at the UN” following his inauguration.
After the resolution’s passage, Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, called Obama a “Jew-hating anti-Semite” according to The Guardian. Numerous high profile Democrats and Republicans also attacked Obama for allowing the resolution through.
Israel’s diplomatic reaction to the resolution was furious and indiscriminate. Netanyahu immediately lashed out against the Security Council’s members. The Israeli Foreign Ministry suspended ties with countries that voted for the resolution and Netanyahu personally reprimanded their ambassadors in Jerusalem.
Netanyahu cancelled planned trips to Israel by the Senegalese foreign minister and Ukrainian prime minister and promised sanctions against Senegal and New Zealand (all three countries voted for the resolution). Meanwhile, Jerusalem’s municipal government began approving the construction of 5,600 new settlement homes in occupied East Jerusalem.
During his tenure, Netanyahu has worked to normalize and make permanent Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian Territories. Under Netanyahu, the first settlement university was officially incorporated. More recently, a bill to legalize all settlements outposts advanced in the Israeli parliament.
Danny Danon, Israeli ambassador to the UN, reiterated these efforts at normalization in his speech following the UNSC vote. According to The New York Times, Danon criticized the resolution by asking the rhetorical question: “would you ban the French from building in Paris?”
The Security Council resolution demonstrates that the rest of the world is unwilling to accept Israel’s attempt to legitimize its actions. Instead, the international community sees the settlements for what they are: illegal colonies aimed at stealing Palestinian land.
Far from generating supporting, Israel’s reaction to the resolution could, in fact, strengthen global opposition to its occupation, in its entirety. It may also encourage initiatives like the labeling of settlement goods and outright boycotts to pick up even greater steam than they already have.
Perhaps most significantly, Israel’s response might spur legal action against it. In 2015, the Palestinian Authority began giving the International Criminal Court (ICC) evidence about Israeli settlement construction. The ICC rightly treats settlement construction as a violation of international law and, in some cases, a war crime. Israel’s explicit rejection of the UNSC resolution may finally inspire the court to take action. Eventually, it could also inspire the ICC to investigate potential Israeli war crimes in the Gaza Strip.
It is clear Benjamin Netanyahu is eagerly anticipating Donald Trump’s inauguration. Trump’s choice for ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, fervently supports settlement building and promised to undermine the Iran nuclear deal. No matter how supportive President Trump will be, however, Netanyahu’s diplomatic outburst will certainly isolate Israel in the international community, for some time to come.