Doing the two-step sidestep: U.S. abstains from U.N. resolution denouncing Israeli settlements in the West Bank

United States does not vote on Resolution 2334, which could have detrimental effects on relations between Israel and the U.S.

In the waning days of the Obama Administration, United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power abstained from a U.N. Security Counsel (UNSC) vote on Resolution 2334 condemning Israel’s continued attempts to build in East Jerusalem, the Palestinian controlled portion of the holy city.  Tensions between Israel and Palestine have grown since Israelis started to settle in the West Bank, encroaching on the 1967 border between the two peoples.  In the past, the U.S. has been Israel’s biggest supporter in the U.N.; the vote and abstention came as a surprise to many considering Israel’s and the U.S.’s long relationship.

Israel and Palestinian forces, supported by Syria and Egypt, fought for six days in June 1967 over the area east of the city of Jerusalem, called the West Bank.  Israel pushed the Palestinians to the Jordanian border.  The UN negotiated a ceasefire that ended the conflict on June 10, 1967.  Resolution 242 was later adopted by the UNSC that laid the blueprint for peace between Israel and Palestine, resulting in the creation of two separate states.

Since then, both sides have declared they want peace, but each have demands that they will not back down from.  Israel wants security.  Palestine wants land and sovereignty.  Even with the ceasefire in place, these interests put the two peoples at odds with one another; each provoking the other with either acts of violence against civilians or inflammatory language.

Resolution 2334 has overwhelming support of fourteen votes in favor with only the US abstaining from the vote.

Resolution 2334, passed on December 23, meant to rebuke Israel’s continued presence across the 1967 Palestinian borders.  The UNSC is made up of fifteen members, five permanent and ten rotating nonpermanent members.  Permanent members of the UNSC, France, Russia, China, the United Kingdom, and the United States, have veto powers, carrying the ability to block proposed resolutions.  Nonpermanent members, currently Angola, Egypt, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Senegal, Spain, Ukraine, Uruguay, and Venezuela, rotate every two years and can vote on and propose resolutions.  However, nonpermanent members do not have veto power.  A resolution must have all five permanent members vote in favor or abstain and at least nine of the nonpermanent members voting in favor of the Resolution in order to pass.  Resolution 2334 had overwhelming support of fourteen votes in favor with only the US abstaining from the vote.

The Resolution itself is largely symbolic.  The U.N.’s continued hope is to one day create two independent states.  By denouncing Israel, the U.N. furthers this goal. Subparagraph One declares that the Israeli settlements, “…had no legal validity, constituting a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the vision of two States living side-by-side in peace and security.”  Additionally, the document calls upon Palestine to not exacerbate tensions with violence against Israeli civilians.

The UNSC can create sanctions against a state for noncompliance, however, such sanctions have had mixed results and can lead to bigger problems later on.

Resolutions made by the UNSC are nonbinding; they cannot force a state to act according to the resolutions passed.  The UNSC can create sanctions against a state for noncompliance, however, such sanctions have had mixed results and can lead to bigger problems later on.  For example, the U.N. implemented sanctions against Iraq after the first Gulf War.  Iraq entered the oil-for-food program that allowed the state to sell oil to purchase food for citizens.  However, Saddam Hussein was able to illegally sell more oil, for an additional $10.9 Billion, despite the U.N. sanctions.

Even though the Resolution does not contain any sanctions or other compelling language, Israel decried the vote as an attack on its right to occupy all of Jerusalem.  Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “Israel rejects this shameful ­anti-Israel resolution at the U.N. and will not abide by its terms.”   Further, Netanyahu declared that the U.S. orchestrated the whole Resolution and vote.  However, the Obama Administration has defended their position stating they were only following the same policy of past administrations towards peace.  Moreover, Secretary of State John Kerry stated, “…we cannot in good conscience stand in the way of a resolution at the United Nations that makes clear that both sides must act now to preserve the possibility of peace.”

Since the Resolution’s passage, Israel has lashed out against those that voted in favor of condemning document.  All Israeli ambassadors to the nations that supported the Resolution were summoned back to Tel Aviv.  Aid programs to Senegal, a nonpermanent member this session, were immediately cancelled.  The Israeli government is also considering its funding of other programs within the U.N.  Prime Minister Netanyahu did request that Jerusalem’s Municipal Planning and Construction Committee postpone finalizing its plans for 492 additional homes in East Jerusalem.

Republicans and Democrats alike condemned Resolution 2334.   Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) described it as “absolutely shameful.”  The House passed, voting 342 to 80, a nonbinding resolution of their own.  It states that the U.S., “should oppose and veto future United Nations Security Council resolutions that seek to impose solutions to final status issues, or are one-sided and anti-Israel.”  Such a declaration shows that Israel still has strong allies in the U.S.

President-elect Trump was also involved with UNSC deliberations.

President-elect Trump was also involved with UNSC deliberations.  Egypt drafted and circulated the first draft of Resolution 2334 earlier in December.  However, the President-elect called Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to convince the Egyptians to delay the vote.  Al-Sisi contacted his ambassador, telling him to not pursue a vote on the Resolution.  Even with Trump and al-Sisi’s tactics, New Zealand, Venezuela, Malaysia, and Senegal brought the vote to the floor.  After the passage was announced, President-elect Trump took to Twitter telling Israel to stay strong and that January 20th was not too far away.

With the inauguration coming soon, President-elect Trump along with a pro-Israel Congress, will soon have the power to change improve relations with Israel.  Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina is Trump’s pick for U.S. Ambassador to the U.N.  Her experience in international politics is limited, but she did defeat legislation in the South Carolina State Legislature that was part of the Boycott, Disinvestment, and Sanction movement against Israel.  Furthermore, Trump wants to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, signaling his support of Israel’s claim to the entire area.

Likewise, Congress can also act to fortify relations with Israel.  House Republicans are considering introducing legislation that will cut funding to the U.N. Currently, the U.S.’s contributions make up 22% of the U.N.’s total budget.  The next closest states by percentage are Japan, 9.68%, and China, 7.92%.  If Congress does cut funding, the move could be devastating to the U.N.’s ability to operate its international projects.

Recently, the U.S. cut funding to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization…

Congress has cut funding to the U.N. in the past.  Recently, the U.S. cut funding to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 2011 over admitting Palestine into the organization and to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) over its pro-abortion stance in 2002.  Further, Congress can choose to continue to send funds to Israel.  The U.S. last year sent Israel $38 Billion in military aid, which included $5 Billion for missile defense alone.

Ever since the state of Israel was created in 1948, the world has had to pick sides between the Israelis and the Palestinians.  These sides have not waivered much since 1948.  Even during its most heated disagreements, the U.S. will tend to support Israel, whereas other states will back Palestine.  All sides do wish for peace, they just disagree about what that peace looks like.

Claire Scott
About Claire Scott (17 Articles)
Claire Scott is a third year law student and serves as a Senior Staff Writer for the Campbell Law Observer. Originally from Chesapeake, VA, Claire is a Campbell University alumi. After her 1L summer, she worked in the Harnett County NC District Attorney's Office as well as the District 11A Veteran Treatment Court. Her legal interests include estate planning and veteran law.