Israel’s ‘realities on the ground’ make a solution to the conflict harder to achieve

First published by the Middle East Eye on 23/12/2017

The number of settlements and settlers continues to rise at an alarming rate adding unnecessary nails to the coffin of the two-state solution

On 23 December 2016, the last UN Security Council Resolution on Palestine and Israel was passed. The resolution reaffirmed the illegality of Israeli settlement activities stating that “the establishment by Israel of settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law”.

It reiterated the demand that “Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem, and that it fully respect all of its legal obligations in this regard”.

The resolution also underlined that “it will not recognise any changes to the 4 June 1967 lines, including with regard to Jerusalem, other than those agreed by the parties through negotiations”. It called upon “all States, bearing in mind paragraph 1 of this resolution, to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967”.

Parting shot

While resolution 2334 addressed other issues included in the Middle East Quartet report, I will focus on the issue of settlements and differentiation between Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT).

As for the reporting mechanism, the UNSC resolution requested that the UN Secretary General was “to report to the Council every three months on the implementation of the provisions of the present resolution”.

The resolution was a parting shot for the Obama administration as it was preparing to hand the reigns over to Donald Trump’s administration. In an unprecedented move for the US – which traditionally vetoes resolutions criticising Israel – it abstained, while the other 14 permanent and elected members of the council voted in favour.

Explaining the US decision to abstain, the representative of the United States said it had been “a long-standing position of her country that settlements undermined Israel’s security and eroded prospects for peace and stability”. She emphasised, however, that her vote today had not been straightforward.

The resolution was dismissed by Israel, whose representative said that those who had voted “yes” to the resolution had voted “no” to negotiations, to progress and to a “chance for better lives for both Israelis and Palestinians, and to the possibility of peace”.

He added that “the council had voted to condemn the State of Israel and the Jewish people for building homes in the land of Israel” and to deny “our eternal rights” in Jerusalem.

A timely action

The Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine said the council’s action, while long-overdue, “was timely, necessary and important”.  He dismissed claims of bias, saying “the only bias was against law, reason and the vision of two States as the most viable solution”.

He stressed the resolution required “vigilant follow-up if it was to be meaningful and salvage a two-state solution from relegation to history’s archives”.

Since the resolution was not formulated under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, it was always likely to be ignored by Israel as it has no teeth. Additionally, Israel has felt emboldened by a new US Administration, which has sided with it and claimed it is unfairly treated by the UN bodies.

US representative Nikki Hayley told the pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC “the days of Israel bashing are over”. She claimed – without evidence – “when Resolution 2334 happened and the US abstained, the entire country felt a kick in the gut” adding “never did we not have the backs of our friends, and we don’t have a greater friend than Israel. To see that happen was not only embarrassing, it was hurtful.”

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki , speaks on the floor of the United Nations General Assembly on December 21, 2017 in New York City (AFP)

She claimed that “everyone at the United Nations is scared” to talk to her about the measure.

‘Vigilant follow-up’?

The resolution mandated the UN Secretary General to report on its implementation on a three-monthly basis. The picture that emerged is one of a flagrant violation of its call on Israel to halt settlement construction and a lack of differentiation by member states between Israel and the OPT.

In his first report in March 2017 Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, stated: “The reporting period has witnessed a notable increase in statements, announcements and decisions related to settlement construction and expansion.”

He reported that “In January, two major announcements were made for a total of 5,500 housing units in settlements in Area C of the occupied West Bank. Within three weeks, some 3,000 housing units were advanced through the various stages of the planning process and over 240 units reached the final approval stage. Separately, tenders for some 800 housing units were issued.”

In June’s report, Mladenov informed the Council that no steps have been taken by Israel to cease settlement activity during the reporting period. “In fact – since the 24th of March – there has been substantial increase in settlement-related announcements as compared with the previous reporting period, with plans for nearly 4,000 housing units moving forward and 2,000 tenders issued.”

UNSC 2334 has failed to bring a halt to Israel’s insatiable appetite for Palestinian land (AFP)

In September’s report  Mladenov reported that “Israel’s illegal settlement activities have continued at a high rate, a consistent pattern over the course of this year.

“Activity during this period was concentrated primarily in occupied East Jerusalem, where plans were advanced for over 2,300 housing units in July, 30 per cent more than for the whole of 2016.”

His final report for 2017 reported that “some 1,200 units in the occupied West Bank were approved for construction, approximately 460 of them in the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim”.

Israel also advanced, through the various stages of the planning process, “some 1,400 housing units in Area C of the West Bank”.

Realities on the ground

His overall conclusion for the year was that “significantly more housing units were advanced and approved in 2017. In Area C, the number of units advanced and approved more than doubled from 3,000 in 2016 to nearly 7,000 in 2017. In East Jerusalem, the increase has similarly been from 1,600 in 2016 to some 3,100 in 2017.”

It is clear from the above that UNSC 2334 has failed to either bring a halt to Israel’s insatiable appetite for Palestinian land or for member states to act to distinguish between Israel and the OPT.

The number of settlements and settlers continues to rise at an alarming rate adding unnecessary nails to the coffin of the two-state solution which is now well and truly buried, particularly if the leaks about the “deal of the century” or the “ultimate deal” being developed by trump’s pro-Israel team are to be believed.

When announcing his recognition of Jerusalem (including occupied East Jerusalem) as Israel’s capital, Trump referred to reality on the ground. He stated “today we finally acknowledge the obvious. That Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. This is nothing more or less than a recognition of reality.”

The message to Israel is that you create reality on the ground and the US will then recognise these new realities devoid of international law or UN Security Council resolutions.

The number of settlers residing illegally in settlements has grown without any notable interruption.

If they all remain, and indeed others are added, then there can be no two-state solution or a deal that the Palestinians can accept. Even if Trump is replaced at some point by a more responsible president, he or she will be left with realities that make a solution to the conflict ever harder to achieve.

Israel and its supporters in the US may be smiling and cheering now but they cannot expect the Palestinians to behave like a model occupied people and pick up the crumbs that remain to form their homeland.

The settlement enterprise has well and truly kicked peace into the long grass.

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