Israeli and Palestinian Role in and Response to UNSC Resolution 2334
The Palestinian reaction to Resolution 2334 seems obvious. Ever since the Fatah faction of the PLO decided that they could not win militarily on the ground, in contrast to Hamas, even as the battle shifted from direct warfare to guerilla warfare or terrorism, Fatah resorted to trying to win in international diplomatic and legal fora. On 4 August of 2009, at the sixth general conference of Fatah held after a hiatus of six years, and specifically convened symbolically in Bethlehem next to the Church of the Nativity within Occupied Palestine and not in a foreign Arab capital, with over 2,000 in attendance, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas sold his movement on the proposition that Palestinians had to adopt a different form of opposition to Israeli power and focus on increasing international support.
“We should introduce new forms of resistance to attract universal public opinion” to reinforce Palestinian rights within the context of international law. Peaceful methods, though not exactly Gandhi’s form of non-violent resistance, recommended earlier by Faisal Husseini before the first intifada, would supersede, but not exclude, military armed struggle to become the foundation stone for building a Palestinian state. It was an explicit rejection of the proposal of President Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel to achieve peace through economic cooperation and integration, a proposal Bibi put forth just after he assumed office in April of 2009.
There is, of course, a huge irony in all this. While Fatah pursued the backing of international law, Abbas consolidated his monopolization on domestic power at the expense of the rule of law. “He is the president of the Palestinian Authority, head of the Fatah movement, head of the PLO’s Executive Committee and the commander in chief of the Palestinian security forces. He neglects the law (my italics) and the movement’s statutes that govern its institutions. He monopolizes power and is abusive toward those who disagree with him.” These are not my words but those of Abdel-Hakim Awad, a member of the Fatah Revolutionary Council who nominated Abbas to his position, but recently was excluded from the movement’s seventh congress in Ramallah held in December because of his criticisms. This step, along with the monopoly of the control of media and lifting the parliamentary immunity of opponents, are sure signs that a leader had turned towards adopting totalitarian methods.
In that Fatah quest for the imprimatur of international law, Jerusalem was front and centre. Not East Jerusalem, but Jerusalem. Jerusalem was to be the capital of the new Palestinian state. The target became freezing settlement activities in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem. No freeze then no peace negotiations. The cessation of settlement activities became the sine qua non for resuming peace negotiations. Settlement activity anywhere in the West Bank and East Jerusalem had to be branded as illegal.
Resolution 2334 was a peak victory in that effort. The upcoming French Peace Summit on 15 January, just next week, may be another, especially if the representatives to that summit endorse a pace plan along most of the lines proposed by John Kerry. I would not expect them to agree to sharing Jerusalem as a joint capital, but if they also get that summit to declare all settlements across the old Green Line as not just an impediment to peace, not just as illegitimate, but as illegal, it would mean defining the Jewish Quarter in the Old City and twelve very large neighbourhoods in Jerusalem as illegal as well as the settlements in Area C and beyond the Separation Barrier, not to speak even of the outposts illegal even under Israeli law. The effort to relocate the Amona settlers to land owned by ‘absentee landlords’ to legalize the settlement in accordance with Israeli law and in contravention of past practice of not putting settlements on Palestinian privately owned property, will become irrelevant.
Further, from now on, as Italian journalist Giulio Meotti wrote, “any Israeli, civilian or military, involved in the ‘settlements,’ will be liable to judgment for violating the Geneva Convention. The Israeli army, which administers areas B and C, may be indicted if it demolishes the homes of terrorists, if it expropriates the land for reasons of ‘security’, if it plans new Israeli homes. The decision is now in the hands of the Hague prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, who has already opened an investigation about the ‘Israeli settlements,’ believing they constitute a ‘war crime.’ Israeli military personnel and politicians could be subject to warrants if they land in London, as occurred with Tzipi Livni.” Further, Israeli banks operating even in the “illegal” Jerusalem neighbourhoods could be charged under international law. The European Council on Foreign Relations has already proposed sanction against some Israeli banks – Bank Hapoalim, Bank Leumi and the Mizrahi-Tefahot Bank.
Another nail will have been driven into the coffin of Resolution 242 which indirectly gave Israel permission to trade peace for territorial acquisitions. The old armistice lines would become once more a reference point for negotiations. Further, if the Summit follows the lead of Resolution 2334 and, on the issue of violence, ignores John Kerry’s speech, Palestinian incitement and celebration of terrorism could continue as a supplementary rather than prime form of resistance. Ostensibly committed to a non-violent path to peace, documents and proposals that emerge from the Summit will only be generalized condemnation of violence with no effort to pinpoint centres of responsibility.
Further, the PA can be expected to use the International Criminal Court to pursue Israeli individuals and charge Israel with more specific legal actions. In addition, the resources of the UN, now being used to prepare the organizational ground for a more comprehensive targeted boycott of Israeli goods, will get a further impetus. Finally, the U.S., Israel’s strongest defender, will be further sidelined and the Trump administration castrated in the world of international diplomacy and international law as much as Trump might shift American policy to a much stronger pro-settler position. The U.S. has been pushed from the centre to the margins in Israel-Palestinian negotiations, a position very unlikely to dent but possibly increasingly cement the close ties on military defence and intelligence issues as well as the huge economic exchange between the two countries.
At the same time, the Trump administration with Democratic Party support will likely fight back on behalf of Israel, threatening legal action against European banks if they begin to boycott Israeli banks, bar European institutions and pension funds from American-controlled systems of economic exchange if they proscribe Israel from investments and if Israeli companies are blacklisted. Instead of the regional economic cooperation that Bibi had proposed in 2009 as a pathway to peace, we will have international economic, legal and diplomatic warfare. How can one argue that Resolution 2334 enhances the prospect of peace?
There is one illusion that has accompanied Resolution 2334. Since it was passed under Article VI of the UN Convention instead of Article VII, many interpret the Resolution as non-binding. General Assembly resolutions are clearly only recommendations, but they also influence practices and budgets of the UN administration. Recommendations of the UN Security Council under Chapter VI have no enforcement mechanisms. However, though disputed by many international legal experts, the ruling of a majority of the International Court in The Hague in 1971 declared that all UN Security Council decisions are binding. There may be no coercive power attached to them, but they have a tremendous influence politically and diplomatically and help build a widespread world consensus on certain matters. In this sense, a resolution can be morally binding even if compliance is only voluntary. One should never underestimate the power of morality even in a dog-eat-dog world.
Of course, Israel’s challenge to Obama on his home turf over the Iran nuclear deal did not help Israel win friends among many Democrats. As Martin Sherman, Executive Director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Affairs put it in a relatively understated matter, the “appalling and infuriating outbursts of vindictive pique” of Israeli politicians led by Bibi Netanyahu probably damaged the Israeli position more than anything and, as Sherman predicted, prepared the ground for the UN Resolution. Then there was a total absence of preparation for the impending storm, either through diplomatic initiatives to propose putting the two-State solution and peace negotiations back on track or, on the other hand, using the stick to get the Palestinians to back off by tightening the economic screws through which Israel primarily controls Abbas. None of these entailed freezing settlement activities.
Former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon also criticized Bibi for not working to prevent the passage of Resolution 2334 much more assiduously. There is not a single bit of evidence that Israel intends to accept Resolution 2334 as a basis for negotiation, notwithstanding Bibi’s endorsement of a two-State solution in his famous 2009 Bar-Ilan speech. For Israel, while ostensibly holding up that goal, did virtually everything in its power to undermine it, often through means that appeared to any reasonable observer to be disingenuous and insincere, deceptive and deceitful. This became abundantly clear when Bibi vowed that there would never be a Palestinian state on his watch. It is the height of folly to endorse a two-State solution on the one hand and then promise it will never come into being while you are in office on the other hand. Will Israel seek to engage its old European democratic partners once again in dialogue, as extensive as the disagreements are, or will Bibi go on an all-out warpath against them? Merely to ask the question reveals the answer.
The debate in Israel will shift to whether the objective should be strengthening the control and demography of Area C, while also thickening the settlements on the other side of the Separation Barrier, versus those who want to go after all of the West Bank, perhaps sharing part in a condominium arrangement with Jordan, but, in that alternative, denying the possibility of a Palestinian state coming into existence side-by-side Israel. In the wider field, Israel will increasingly become an opponent of the expansion of international law and legal norms and will have surrendered the turf of international diplomacy and law to Palestinian machinations. As Palestine becomes more authoritarian and totalitarian, ironically it increases the number of democracies at the front line of its defence.
Thus, there are divisions within Israel, the majority favouring one or other form of two-State solution and a minority aiming for territorial maximalism. Whatever the divisions, most Jewish Israelis find themselves united in opposition to the premises of Resolution 2334. Given the right-wing character of the Israeli government, the Israeli polity will ensure that not only no transportation link between Gaza and the West Bank will be established, but that Gazan students pursuing higher education degrees will not be allowed direct access to the West Bank. If a man and woman from the West Bank and Gaza fall in love, they will only be permitted to live together in Gaza. Other mechanisms of depopulating Area C of Palestinians will continue.
While Palestinians are increasingly united on the diplomatic and legal strategy but divided on their military and security strategy, on the ground barriers, between Palestinian communities grow. Abdel-Hakim Awad, a member of the Fatah Revolutionary Council and the Palestinian National Council, has attacked Abbas even though he originally made the motion to make Abbas head of the PA. He accused Abbas of excessively cooperating with Israel to maintain security in Area B. The irony is that, while legally and politically, the international community has moved to legitimize Palestinian control over all territories outside the Green Line, on the ground, that line is increasingly totally irrelevant. If a peace agreement is by some far out chance agreed to, Palestinian communities will have to be linked together by a series of sunken and exclusive roads, provided they are part of the agreement and Israel implements those clauses.
What has also evaporated, Kerry’s rhetoric to the contrary, is the vision of two alternatives – an Israel that is Jewish but non-democratic or an Israel that is both Jewish and democratic because it lives within much more restrictive borders. Israel can leave out the major population of Palestinians, use various devices to ensure that Palestine does not become a full self-governing state, and remain both Jewish and democratic. The real choice is between different variations of a Jewish and democratic state.
In a very expansionist scenario, outposts will be “regularized.” In a middle range objective, only Area C will be viewed for incorporation into Israel. In a very modest and dovish proposal, but one which only a small minority of Jewish Israelis share, Israel will just keep the new neighbourhoods of Jerusalem across the Green Line and the Old City. The latter two alternatives allow for a Palestinian state alongside Israel occupying 22% of the territory of the original Mandate. The first does not. But none of these include the most extreme and aggressive Zionist option of a one state solution where there is no Palestinian state at all but where Jordan is expected to play a specific role, one to which it is very unlikely to agree.
In light of the passage of UNSC Res. 2334, what might the effect be of moving the American embassy to Jerusalem? For one, it would send a clear and unequivocal message that America is no longer bound by international law. Many others would be further alienated from both the U.S. and Israel. As Martin Indyk (no admirer of Trump) pointed out, Trump might so shake things up that the peace process could possibly be reconstituted. According to Indyk, it would start by resolving the thorniest issue of all first in contrast to my preference for bracketing Jerusalem as unresolvable. It depends on buying into Kerry’s vision of Jerusalem as a joint capital, which neither the Israelis, Trump and his supporters or even the Palestinians endorse. While Israel would run into this proposal like a bull, the Palestinians would try to bite their tongues and stay out of the fray to gain more diplomatic and legal points. The move of the American embassy will be a demonstration of even more impotence on the part of the international community and a reaction by both Netanyahu (or his successor) to install more footprints in the sand.
Indyk himself admits his proposal is far-fetched, but he felt he had to grasp for straws. I prefer to breathe the political air that is actually out there.
One of the great benefits of Kerry’s speech is that it agreed with and backed the Israeli position that no solution can be imposed from outside, but that the parties themselves would have to come to some compromise. There were other gains. Kerry specifically mentioned the need to endorse Israel as a Jewish state. He also explicitly said that the refugee issue would be resolved through compensation and not through return. However, as important as these gains are, they pale in significance compared to the diplomatic and legal costs of Resolution 2334.
The result will not only be very much increased diplomatic, legal and economic wrangling on the world stage, but greatly increased tensions within the Fatah movement and within Israeli political institutions, all likely to be at the cost of democratic practices. The tensions over democratic norms within Israel are nowhere comparable to those taking place on the West Bank. However, if the treatment of Deputy Attorney General, Dina Zilber, is any indication, democratic institutions in Israel will be roiled in conflict. Zilber’s report recommended that all settlement activities be made accountable to the government and not relegated to a non-accountable World Zionist Federation. This report was thrown in the trash heap. If this treatment is any indication, then the independent advice of professional mandarins is likely to be set aside and ignored. Highly qualified mandarins will be castrated because their professional activities frustrate the ambitions of the more extreme members of the right-wing Israeli cabinet. The civil service will become far less civil and much more partisan in exclusive service to the party then in power.
Instead of peace, Resolution 2334 has opened the floodgates to a huge expansion in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the world stage. As Miriam Na’or of the Supreme Court of Israel stated, “You cannot ignore international law.” Conflict will not only increase between Palestinians and Israelis, but also within both Palestine and Israeli governmental structures. In Israel, the efforts to bend Israeli law to serve partisan political purposes is bound to increase at the same time as the prospect of a peace deal between Israel and Palestinians becomes more remote each day.
With the help of Alex Zisman