Resolution 2334 and a Two-State Solution:
Part C: Analyzing the Resolution Itself and Its Effects on Negotiations
Following the war in 1948, the borders recommended by UNSCOP, the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine, shifted. Beginning with the United States, many countries recognized the new state of Israel. This was before the war broke out. After the war, these states, and the numbers increased, which recognized Israel, did not differentiate between the borders approved by the UN and the territory between those borders and the new armistice line. The latter was not referred to as “occupied territory” within the enlarged borders of the armistice agreement. It is more than noteworthy that the Fourth Geneva Convention (Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War) which defined the rights of a victor over territory and the treatment of local inhabitants, as well as the right to move or give permission to move its own population into those territories captured in that war, was not adopted until August 1949.
The inclusion of Jerusalem and the West Bank within Jordan was not generally recognized. Nevertheless, Jordan’s control and administration of Jerusalem and the West Bank and its subsequent annexation into Jordan became the de facto reality until 1967. In that year, UNSC Res. 242 set up a new framework for recognition. Israel was required to withdraw from occupied territories, and explicitly not the occupied territories. The drafters of that resolution explicitly did not recognize the 1948 armistice lines as borders. The big change was that Israel was now the occupying power of the West Bank, the Old City, East Jerusalem and Gaza. According to the generally established, but not universally accepted, interpretations of the Fourth Geneva Convention, a power that exercises military occupation of a territory following a war – and it does not matter whether that territory was the sovereign territory of another state or territory occupied by another power or legal state or whether the territory was captured in a defensive or an aggressive war – that power was not allowed to alter the demography of that territory by moving its population into that territory or even allowing its citizens to move in to occupy parts of that territory.
The left in Israel took advantage of the clauses that allowed changes “for military purposes.” The right in Israel claimed, that under the Balfour Declaration and its international endorsement, that territory was to be a homeland where Jewish people could settle. Others claimed that the Fourth Geneva Convention trumped those allowances of the 1920s. But the point became moot because international treaties between the parties in contention would trump both the Geneva Convention and the exercise of de facto coercive power and administrative control on the ground.
Which brings us to Resolution 2334. Resolution 2334 alters previous arrangements and does so in fundamental ways. It reaffirms, as I have previously explained, a general principle, but one only applied to Israel after 1967, the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by military force. It reaffirms the Fourth Geneva Convention about the transfer of populations and defines the creation of the barrier/wall/fence as a breach of that Convention and not justified by military or security needs, at least where it is located on territory administered by Israel. Israel’s actions were once again determined to be in contravention of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Resolution 2334 explicitly condemns altering the demographic makeup of the territory, more significantly, biases any negotiations by calling the occupied territory Palestinian territory and not simply the West Bank, and specifically includes East Jerusalem which encompasses the Old City in its nomenclature.
Resolution 2334 adds to these old assertions, now somewhat modified in language, a “grave concern” that the continuous construction of settlements threatens the two-State solution. The Resolution explicitly adds, “based on the 1967 lines,” and leaves out any reference to land swaps. In this Resolution, the 1967 lines now acquire a status as a border reference. The Resolution goes even further to point to the settlements as THE obstacle, that is the major, though not exclusive, barrier to concluding a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. And it is, if you accept the Old City, East Jerusalem and all of the West Bank as Palestinian territory. And that is what the UN Security Council did in passing that Resolution. It effectively trumped Resolution 242 which had only required withdrawal from some territory and not all territory. Resolution 2334 effectively trumped OSLO by setting the 1967 armistice borders as the reference point rather than any swap of territories already agreed to between the Palestinian Authority and Israel.
In effect, the weight of international recognition of what was Palestinian territory was added to the weight of the dominant interpretation of international law to offset the weight of coercive power and administrative Israeli authority over parts of that territory. In the near term, the Resolution seems to have had a stimulant effect, spurring the formalization of settlements and outposts underway or in the planning stage, as occurred at the beginning of the twenty-first century when another UN Security Council Resolution was passed. UNSC Resolution 1515 adopted unanimously on 19 November 2003, endorsed the Road Map proposed by the Quartet envisaging an exchange of territories to satisfy Israeli security concerns and the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. The threat of terrorism featured prominently. In that phase, the establishment of new settlements, at least legally, by and large effectively ceased.
The focus of Israel became “natural” expansion. This is precisely and explicitly what Resolution 2334 mentioned. Did Resolution 1515 passed in 2003 indirectly accept the settlements built before 31 March 2001? Was their legality reinforced in distinguishing between settlements after 2002 from those authorized before 2001? Resolution 2334 seemed to state that this was not the case. The only changes to the 1967 lines that will be recognized are those made between the two parties. Does that mean that Resolution 2334 recognizes the lines between areas A, B and C? Quite the reverse. By not mentioning them, they are given no international imprimatur. Does that mean Resolution 2334 recognizes the tentative agreement on the territorial swap? Quite the reverse. By not mentioning that swap agreement, it is given no international imprimatur. These may be incorporated into a final negotiated agreement, but the diplomatic trading hand of the Palestinians has been greatly strengthened.
In the last eight years under the Obama administration, the number of Israeli settlers in the West Bank, excluding Jerusalem neighbourhoods, has grown to about 400,000, a gain of more than 100,000 largely through the “thickening” of existing settlements. The number of “settlers” in East Jerusalem has grown to roughly 208,000, only 15,000 more than when Obama took office. The emphasis in policy of Israel has been on strengthening the West Bank settlements. Almost 13,000 new settlement units were initiated or completed in the West Bank. What Israel has lost in diplomatic leverage in the international arena it has tried to offset by facts on the ground and de facto coercive and administrative control.
Unlike the efforts at the beginning of the twenty-first century, the 2016 Resolution called on reversing the situation. Further, contrary to the contention of that Resolution, there is little evidence suggesting that efforts to grow and expand existing settlements entrench a one-State reality as claimed in Resolution 2334. But the clinkers come in the clauses much more than in the preamble. Those clauses reiterate that the settlements established anywhere in the occupied territories after 1967 are illegal., a flagrant violation of international law and impediment to a two-State solution and a just and lasting solution to the conflict. Resolution 2334 demands cessation of all settlement activities.
And what is a settlement activity. Expanding buildings? Repairing buildings, Working? Eating? Driving? Or is it just the collective initiatives such as providing for infrastructure and administration? The real substantive elements are the repeated references to the 1967 borders as the fundamental reference, the repeated reference to East Jerusalem, including the Old City, as falling within that reference point as not only occupied territory but occupied Palestinian territory, the call for reversal of trends that have significantly fallen off since the beginning of the twenty-first century, and the call for other states to differentiate, not only in trade, but in all dealings between what happens in the occupied territories and what happens within the 1967 lines recognized as sovereign Israel. The supplementary clauses denouncing violence on all sides appear pro tem, especially because the resolution explicitly excludes reference to activities which reinforce or encourage terrorism (such as treating terrorists as heroes and martyrs) while the targeting of demolitions is spelled out and focused solely on Israel.
In August of 2016, following a denunciation of settlement thickening expansion plans by 200 American rabbis, the U.S. sent Israel an unequivocal message that if demolitions proceeded in the Palestinian village of Sussia, a red line would be crossed. This echoed protests made by EU foreign ministers on 20 July 2016 following warnings General Mordechai delivered to the Bedouins. 340 of them live in the village. The fact that these disputes, so badly handled by Israel, may have virtually nothing to do with Israeli settlement activities and everything to do with Bedouin resistance to Israeli urban development strictures, whether in Israel proper or the West bank, seem to have had no influence on the wording of the resolution.
Quamar Mishirqi-Assad, a lawyer dealing with this issue on behalf of the villagers, claimed that Israel simply wanted to move the village to or near Area B and out of Area C, an area in which 400,000 Israeli live and only 100,0000 Palestinians do. The fact that the villagers were forced to move in 1986 and the homes they built on their agricultural land were demolished in 2001, rebuilt and demolished again in 2011, was not considered as part of the analysis. This demolition would be the third time since the village was built thirty years ago. Nor did the fact that the Israeli Supreme Court ruled in favour of the government in 2015 seem to count. Nor, finally, did it seem to matter that this was a new village built during occupation.
All of this must be understood also within the context of diplomacy conducted over the last six years. The Americans refused to declare the settlements illegal in 2011 when the Palestinians attempted to declare their status as a state at the United Nations in the Palestine 191 initiative. How did Israel respond? It doubled down and announced the building of additional settlement units in response to the Palestinian diplomatic initiative. The Europeans resisted. Germany moved to stop delivery of submarines capable of carrying nuclear weapons to Israel. The following year, if some European states previously abstained, they then supported Palestinian statehood. If they previously opposed, they abstained in 2012 voting. The diplomatic war was running against Israel and criticisms mounted against home demolitions, expropriation of land and the refusal to grant construction permits to Palestinians.
These countries and their diplomats contended that Israeli actions and initiatives in the West Bank were completely contradictory to the stated and agreed aim of arriving at a two-State solution. But as I tried to demonstrate in my previous analysis, that depends on what you define as the two-State solution since there are many variations. If the plan is simply to incorporate Area C along with the accepted Jerusalem neighbourhoods into Israel, and to transfer equivalent Israeli land to the new Palestinian state, such thickening activities do not undermine a two-State solution. But if the reference point is the 1967 armistice lines, then such activities do conflict with a very different two-State solution. More importantly, by making the 1967 lines the reference point and by defining the occupied territory as Palestinian territory, the diplomatic hand of the Palestinians is significantly strengthened.
The situation, to say the least, has not been helped by the way Bibi Netanyahu conducts diplomacy in terms of domestic politics. He has bragged that his government is more committed to settlements than any Israeli government in history, in spite of the evidence to the contrary when comparing the expansion of the number of settlements under Arik Sharon’s government compared to Bibi’s. Further, Naftali Bennett and others in Bibi’s cabinet openly declare the two-State solution in any form dead. Donald Trump has appointed an ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, who dubs the two-State solution in any form an illusion. All of these responses of the Israeli government stimulate an equal and powerful reaction from Western governments sympathetic to some kind of a Palestinian state being created side-by-side Israel.
As more Israeli politicians not only believe in but advocate implementing a one state solution unilaterally, increasing numbers of Palestinians have moved to advocate a bi-national state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean attracting idealist support and that of many European nations. But those efforts are NOT identified as a threat to the two-State solution because they ostensibly emanate from idealist principles rather than what is perceived to be a crass power grab.
In one interpretation of Resolution 2334, the world is trying to save Israel from its worst propensities, propensities likely to be reinforced by the new Trump government. In a very different interpretation of the very same international diplomatic initiatives, a sustained effort has been mounted to strengthen the Palestinian hand in negotiations and to keep the threat of terrorism at bay. As Israeli settlers marched from Ma’aleh Adumim to the Jerusalem neighbourhoods built on territory captured in the Six Day War (February 2014), when in 2016 Bennett openly advocated formally annexing those territories, the counter-movement strengthened.
Those who argue that settling people to mark territory is illegal under the dominant interpretation of international law, and, further, that such efforts are unsustainable, in turn, strengthen the hands of Israeli extremists demanding total annexation. The extremes are enhanced and the most reasonable compromises are undermined from both sides. This is especially true when the idealists and opponents charge Israel with creating an apartheid state – which is not outside the realm of possibilities. Certainly, hatred of Jews has been increasing among Palestinians. Suspicion and fear of Arabs, reinforced by extremist Islamic actors in the Muslim world, has increased among Israelis.
In response to my last blog, one reader wrote and asked, “To whom does the land belong?” I quipped back as if I were writing a Donald Trump tweet, “To God. We are merely the custodians.” The reader wrote back, “Well, that may be theological, but I’d like a more practical answer.” I offered a more serious response as follows:
“You are right to do so [object to my terse response]. In part, but only in part, this was written tongue in cheek. The reality is that the borders of a territory and the country that controls that territory are products of coercive power, administrative legal authority, legal treaties between and among nations and recognition by others. Is Taiwan part of China? Is Tibet part of China? According to the first two criteria above, the answer in both cases is yes. Over the last seventy years, the answer to the 3rd and 4th criteria has also increasingly been “yes,” even though there is often a distinction made between de facto and de jure recognition.”
Are the settlements illegal and does that mean they should all be condemned and torn down? Illegal means unlawful, but does not entail that what took place is a criminal act. Civil disobedience is illegal in many countries. Trespassing is illegal but not a criminal offence. Further, some practices are illegal, but the laws against them are not enforced. Some acts are considered illegal but the requisite authority lacks any enforcement mechanism. Most international legal experts in humanitarian law deem it illegal to transfer a conqueror’s population into the territory under occupation. Many Israeli experts in humanitarian law argue that if the territory is taken in a defensive war AND if the territory was never the possession of a sovereign state, settling the population of the new occupier in the conquered territory is not illegal and many even regard the territory as not occupied.
Since the International Court in The Hague has sided with the first set of interpreters, and those interpreters are in the majority, I simply take it as a descriptive fact that, currently, international law deems the settlements in the West Bank to be illegal. However, I myself believe that law is not the only determinant and often not the main factor in international affairs. The removal of such a large number of people would be immoral and politically catastrophic and those ethical and political considerations far outweigh the considered legal opinions of most international humanitarian legal scholars and even the interpretations of The Hague court.
Further who gives the recognition is critical. If it is a major power, that is one thing. If it is Honduras, that is quite another. Sometimes occupied territory is recognized as part of a state passively – namely by muting criticism of that occupation. This happened with the territory Israel won in the 1948 war. It has not happened with the territory won in the 1967 war. In fact, the vocal and legal opposition to the ownership by Israel of the “occupied territories” has grown. At the same time, the control via power and demography of some of that territory has increased. The next two decades will set the direction of the resolution of the recognition of new borders based on an admixture of these factors, but the determination will not be unilateral determined by Israel’s coercive power or formal administrative authority alone.
Those other factors will be significantly affected by influence, the growing role of Israel in wealth and in the world economy and the other kind of influence that is non-material, the respect Israeli politicians and friends earn for Israel on the international stage. The latter is usually called diplomacy.
It is in this context that I want to move on and examine the American approach to Resolution 2334 compared to the Israeli one.
With the help of Alex Zisman