In a tense vote on Friday, Dec. 16, 2016, the United States abstained from vetoing an otherwise unanimous United Nations Security Council resolution asking Israel to pull out of its occupation of Palestinian territory in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
The resolution, which stated that Israel’s settlements on Palestinian land have “no legal validity” and are a “flagrant violation of international law,” was passed 14-0 in favor (with only the United States abstaining), and was initiated by New Zealand, Malaysia, Venezuela and Senegal one day after Egypt was persuaded not to initiate it by Israel and U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, Al Jazeera reports.
However, the abstention came as a surprise due to the long history of cordial U.S.-Israel relations, and it marked the first time ever that the Obama administration took such a hard stance on Israel.
After the passing of the resolution, United States Secretary of State John Kerry gave a 70-minute speech in which he tried to explain why the daily occupation of Palestinian land is directly opposed to the “two-state solution.”
The solution is a proposed settlement for Palestinians, who claim the original inheritance of the land, to live peacefully with the Israeli-Jewish people who have been settling there since the late 1800s and have subsequently gained control of much of Palestine.
This solution has been an agreed upon goal by all major players involved in the conflict (including Israel) for decades. However, the two-state solution hasn’t already come to pass because the reality of the situation is complex (more info on the two-state solution).
For example, both states claim Jerusalem as their capital, and the city has religious as well as cultural significance for each. This means that an easy fix in partitioning territory does not seem plausible.
Arizona Senator John McCain called Secretary Kerry’s speech nothing but a “tirade,” and Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-NY) added, “There doesn’t seem any purpose to this other than to embarrass Israel.”
The views of Kerry and the Obama administration, however, were supported by foreign leaders, including vice president of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the French Senate, Nathalie Goulet, the New York Times reported.
Some critics of the resolution think that it, and Secretary Kerry’s words, are too little and too late to be effective: President-elect Trump has already given his formal blessing to the Jewish-Israeli state, and the resolution itself does not specify any mechanism for enforcing its dictates, leaving it arguably a lame catalyst depending on how it is treated in coming months.
Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu reacted to the U.N. resolution with indignation stating, “Friends don’t take friends to the Security Council.”
Secretary Kerry replied to this statement by stating, “Friends need to tell each other the hard truths, and friendships require mutual respect.” Netanyahu also withdrew relations with some member states who supported the resolution.
A representative of Mr. Netanyahu reportedly stated, “We have ironclad information that emanates from sources in the Arab world, and that shows the Obama administration helped craft this resolution and pushed hard for its eventual passage,” alluding to the idea that the resolution was a deliberate means to unfairly stifle Israel, a claim since denied by the United States.