Over the past few weeks, Israel’s foreign affairs have been mired in the backlash of the recent United Nations resolution regarding its settlement program. The passing of UN Resolution 2334 on 23 December 2016 sparked outrage over its condemnation of the nation’s settlement activities in Palestinian territories. The Resolution was prompted by growing concerns that settlement construction is eroding away at the region's prospects for peace. Notably, the United States’ decision not to wield its veto power in the Security Council, which allowed the Resolution to pass, deepened the rift between Israel and the Obama administration. The ‘anti-Israel manoeuvre’ marked a significant diplomatic defeat for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has since become embroiled in a public war against the UN and members of its Security Council.
Resolution 2334 was co-sponsored by New Zealand, Malaysia, Senegal and Venezuela and adopted with a vote of 14-0. The Resolution was initially proposed by Egypt, however it was withdrawn under diplomatic duress from Israel and the US President-elect Donald Trump. The Resolution enshrined the global sentiment that the settlement development is in violation of international law and thwarts the prospect of a two-state solution. The Resolution declared the Palestinian territories in dispute ‘occupied’, and called for a cessation of all settlement activities in both the West Bank and remarkably, East Jerusalem.
Under the current status quo, settlements undermine Palestinian sovereignty, destabilise peace and the dichotomy between the autonomy of Palestinians and Israelis has led some commentators to decry the current situation as a quasi-apartheid state. Nonetheless, the Resolution did not call for any immediate action and thus appears a largely toothless and symbolic gesture intended to warn Israel, which has since suggested that it has no intention of abiding by its terms. However, Israel does fear that violation of the Resolution may result in economic sanctions or prosecution at the International Criminal Court.
Netanyahu perceived the resolution as a direct attack against its statehood, declaring it a ‘shameful anti-Israel resolution’. Israel dissolved diplomatic relations with New Zealand after warning that its sponsorship would amount to a ‘declaration of war’. Diplomatic relations with Senegal were also cut as well as its $7.9 million aid package. Netanyahu issued a personal reprimand following the resolution, recalling the ambassadors of UN Security Council members who voted in favour of the resolution. Netanyahu also called for a separate meeting with Dan Shapiro, the current American ambassador to Israel.
Israel has since planned to punish the UN and its associated organs for the settlement resolution. Shortly after the resolution passed, Netanyahu announced at a cabinet meeting that he would devise a strategic plan against the UN. Recently on Friday 6 January, Israel’s UN mission announced that it would be halting $6 million in economic support to the organisation. These recent developments reflect Israel’s ambivalent history with the UN. Whilst the UN is responsible for giving legitimacy to the embryonic Jewish state in 1947, it has since pursued an Israeli-centric resolution agenda, including 16 resolutions that dealt solely with Israel in 2016.
Notably, the Resolution was critical in amplifying the growing enmity between the Obama administration and Israel, with Netanyahu blaming Obama for its success. Nonetheless, since the inception of the State of Israel, the United States has been one of its longstanding supporters. Accordingly, the US has continued to tacitly support its settlement program. However, a rift began to develop under the Obama administration owing to a surge in constructions. The abstention of the US was a final act of defiance for Obama’s legacy and part of a string of political manoeuvres to undermine the future Trump administration.
Nonetheless, Trump’s unprecedented involvement as a President-elect in the withdrawal of Egypt’s initial sponsorship is significant. Not only does it suggest that the President-elect was considerably emboldened in interfering with the foreign affairs of the sitting president, but also that Trump’s administration will pursue a policy more amenable to Israel’s settlement scheme. Shortly after the Resolution passed, Trump tweeted that ‘things will be different’ after he takes office. Trump is a known supporter of Israel and has recently appointed a pro-settlement ambassador to Israel, and plans to move the embassy to Jerusalem. As such, Trump recently invited a settler group, the Yesha Settlers’ Council, to his inauguration. Additionally, some US senators have begun a push to cut funding to the UN following the passing of the Resolution. This could have a detrimental impact on UN activities, as the US is the organ’s largest financial backer, paying 22% of its $5.4 billion annual budget.
It's evident that the continuation of the construction of illegal settlements in Palestine frustrates lucrative peace attempts between Palestinians and Israelis. The question thus remains as to how the international community will react if Israel defies this resolution. Perhaps under a supportive Trump administration Israel will be emboldened to continue its settlement construction and further denigrate the United Nations. However, this is a dangerous policy for Israel to pursue and the nation should exercise caution in regards to its belligerent rhetoric. Israel is already a polarising nation and this recent resolution suggests that it suffers waning support from the international community owing to its flagrant disregard for international law.
Sarah Barrie is the Middle East and North Africa Fellow for Young Australians in International Affairs.