Israeli officials fear that a shameful U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements as illegal and a barrier to peace could be the start of a wave of international declarations against the country.
Days after the measure was approved, Israel’s foreign ministry are bracing for what it believes could be another U.N. resolution that would impose parameters on negotiations with the Palestinians.
Such a resolution could come out of a meeting in Paris of some 70 international leaders, scheduled for Jan. 15, an Israeli official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Israeli officials are also concerned that a speech being planned by Secretary of State John Kerry, which he could present in Paris or before, will outline the Obama administration’s position on a final peace agreement and add fuel to that second resolution.
Israel has long said that any future peace deal with creation of a Palestinian state alongside it could come only from direct peace negotiations, with no preconditions. However, since early 2014, there has been little progress in bringing Israelis and Palestinians to the negotiating table to end the decades-old conflict.
Under the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinians have pressed to hold Israel accountable in international forums for its actions in the West Bank, including expanding existing Jewish settlements and laying the groundwork for new communities.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported Tuesday that in recent days senior government ministers had been presented with information suggesting the French conference will outline a plan for peace that will immediately be brought to the U.N. Security Council for a vote before Jan. 20, when President-elect Donald Trump enters the White House.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned ministers that Friday’s resolution on the settlements might not be the last measure taken by the international community regarding Israel and that there will probably be additional steps, Haaretz reported, quoting an unnamed official.
The resolution, which was approved late Friday by a vote of 14 to 0, declares that Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem have “no legal validity” and constitute a “flagrant violation under international law.” It also calls the settlements a major obstacle to achieving a two-state solution and peace with the Palestinians.
The United States abstained instead of using its veto, breaking with a long-standing policy of blocking resolutions dealing with Israel.
Since Friday, Netanyahu has announced a series of diplomatic measures, including summoning the envoys of countries that voted for the resolution, recalling Israel’s ambassadors in New Zealand and Senegal, two of the four countries that brought the resolution, and canceling some diplomatic meetings with officials from countries that allowed the resolution to pass.
In addition, right-wing voices in Netanyahu’s coalition have called on him to ramp up Israeli construction in the settlements, and some have even said it is time for Israel to annex parts of the West Bank. On Tuesday, there were reports that Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat was about to approve plans to build 600 units in East Jerusalem.
In a statement released Tuesday, the Jerusalem Municipality said, “The Jerusalem Municipality has not changed its stance that building in Jerusalem is necessary for the development of the city and will continue to develop the capital according to zoning and building codes without prejudice, for the benefit of all residents.”
Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem estimates that, combined, about 600,000 Israelis live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The figures are based on official data provided by Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics and the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies. Palestinians say the figure is higher.
Sophie Lagoutte, a spokeswoman for the French Embassy in Tel Aviv, said the Paris initiative was not aimed at creating a new U.N. resolution but was intended to “reaffirm the importance of a two-state solution, with Palestinians and Israelis living side by side in security.”
The French hope the decisions made at the meeting will help reignite the peace process, Lagoutte said.
Palestinian officials praised the U.N. resolution and the French initiative.
The Israelis have repeatedly stated that they will not go to Paris, and Netanyahu said Friday that Israel would not abide by the U.N. resolution.
“Such steps are counterproductive to the situation,” Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely told The Washington Post in an interview. “People are in love with an easy formula and ignore the complexity on the ground.”
Israel does not intend to be part of the Paris conference, she said, or of “any international idea to force a final resolution on Israel” without it first sitting down and negotiating a peace deal with the Palestinians.
Hotovely said she believed the Obama administration “had failed in so many arenas” and that President Barack Obama was on his way out and “did not care if he left behind a bad legacy in the region.”
Hotovely’s comments came after Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, said in a CNN interview Monday that Israel had proof that Obama himself was behind Friday’s U.N. resolution. Dermer said Israel would give Trump evidence that Obama had colluded with the Palestinians in hopes that the new administration would work with Israel to override the resolution by submitting an alternative one on the issue.
“It’s an old story that the United Nations gangs up against Israel. What is new is that the United States did not stand up and oppose that gang-up,” Dermer said on CNN. “And what is outrageous is that the United States was actually behind that gang-up. I think it was a very sad day and really a shameful chapter in U.S.-Israel relations.”
In an interview on Israel’s Channel 2 News, also Monday, Obama adviser Ben Rhodes said that “the true face of this president’s support for Israel can be seen in his entire record.”
“A few weeks ago we completed a 10-year, $38 billion [memorandum of understanding] for security assistance, the largest such package for any country in American history,” Rhodes said. “Obama has been outspoken about his support for a two-state solution and concern about settlements throughout his entire administration. This is not a new position.”
Israelis are involved in a significant diplomatic push to gain the support of other countries heading to the Paris conference. It is also cementing ties with Ethiopia and Kazakhstan, two countries set to become nonpermanent members of the Security Council on Sunday. Netanyahu visited both countries this year.
Oded Eran, a former Israeli diplomat and a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, said, however, that gaining the support of two nonpermanent members was unlikely to prevent a resolution from passing. Only nine affirmative votes are needed from the 15-member council to approve a resolution, but the five permanent members hold veto power.
If a second resolution is brought before the Security Council in coming weeks, it would probably “enshrine the U.S. position on the major issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, set out the borders between the two states and refer to East Jerusalem as being the site of a future Palestinian capital,” Eran said. “If that happens, it will be interesting how the U.S. will react to it this time.”
(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Ruth Eglash