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UN Security Council Rejects Palestinian Resolution to End Israel's Occupation

The bid sought to end the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories and create a state by 2017.
December 30, 2014, 11:05pm
Photo by Richard Drew/AP

After months of tense negotiations, an Arab United Nations Security Council resolution calling on Israel to withdraw from occupied territories by 2017 was defeated Monday, failing to reach the nine votes necessary to force a widely expected US veto.

The vote — 8 for, 2 against, and 5 abstentions — was an embarrassment for the Palestinian Authority and the Jordanian government, which as sole Arab representative on the Security Council brought the resolution to a vote a mere two days before new 2015 Council members likely would have offered wider support.

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"Instead of giving voice tothe aspirations ofboth Palestinians and Israelis, this text addresses the concerns of only one side," said US Ambassador Samantha Power, calling the vote a "staged confrontation."

The US was joined by Australia in voting against the resolution. France, Luxembourg, Jordan, Chad, Argentina, Chile, Russia, and China voted yes. The UK, South Korea, Rwanda, Lithuania, and Nigeria abstained.

"All elements in the draft resolution were acceptable not just to the security council but to the international community as a whole," Dina Kawar, Jordanian UN ambassador, told the Council. "The council bears both the legal and moral responsibility to resolve the Palestinian Israeli conflict."

Palestinian Ambassador Riyad Mansour said, "the Security Council has once again failed to uphold its charter duties to address these crisis and to meaningfully contribute to a peaceful and lasting solution."

Council members, including several that voted in favor of the resolution, said they had reservations about how the vote was brought suddenly and without consultations. France in particular had attempted to reach a more palatable resolution with greater support. In the end, that Sisyphean effort failed.

"The text is not ideal," said French ambassador Francois Delattre, after voting nevertheless in favor of the resolution.

For all of the attention it has gotten — both supportive and critical — many doubted the Palestinian bid for statehood at the United Nations was going to have much, if any, success in reaching a peace deal with Israel.

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The final draft of the resolution, a revision to an original proposal submitted to the Security Council by Jordan on December 17, called for a peace agreement within 12 months and a set timeline for ending the nearly 50-year Israeli occupation by 2017.

The revised draft was submitted Monday after being discussed and endorsed by Arab representatives at the UN. Several times over the past month the US has said they opposed the resolution, and a veto was almost universally expected.

Prior to the vote Tuesday, Mansour said "if one party decides for whatever reason that they do not want to go along with this massive support by the international community to find a just solution to this conflict, to try and save a two state solution… then it is not for the lack of giving times as Arabs, it is not a lack of flexibility."

"We think this has been rushed, and that is why we do not support it, neither on substantive nor on the grounds of timing," State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said.

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The Palestinian state in the proposed resolution is based on the territorial borders that existed prior to the 1967 Six-Day War, during which Israel took control of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem. The revised resolution also called for East Jerusalem to become the sole capital of a future Palestinian state, which has long been a centerpiece to peace negotiations, and remains a flashpoint for conflict since Israel effectively annexed the city. It further called for halting the construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank — though did allow for land swaps that could involve existing settlements.

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The resolution sought to take concrete steps towards establishing the two-state solution, which Israel and the United States have long said they officially support.

Israel vehemently opposed the Palestinian statehood bid. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that an independent Palestinian state would threaten the security of Israel's borders and that, "We will continue to rebuff vigorously attempts to force terms that would jeopardize our security." Israeli officials have threatened to disband the Palestinian Authority and increase illegal settlement activity.

But other Israeli officials said it was a largely a toothless maneuver that is unlikely to go anywhere without the US or Israel's support. Israel's foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, responded yesterday that the resolution was pretty much just a "gimmick" and without Israel's agreement, "nothing will change."

Lieberman's remarks demonstrate the fundamental reality that some Palestinians have argued represents the UN path for statehood — that it is a largely symbolic gesture with no capability to actually enforce the lofty goals it claims to seek. Although this most recent resolution differs from previous ones in that it proposes an actual timeline for a peace deal with Israel and the establishment of a Palestinian state, it remains vague about how it plans to actually implement these proposals.

The resolution did not specify how to establish a viable Palestinian state, and instead calls for one to be "based on" the 1967 borders. More importantly, beyond calling for an international "third party" force — possible the UN itself — it did not include any specific strategies on how to enforce these plans or how to hold Israel accountable if it does not comply.

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Diana Buttu, a Palestinian legal scholar and former advisor to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, does not see seeking statehood at the UN as the ideal method for achieving Palestinian's best interests.

"[Abbas's] style has always been diplomacy, negotiations, and more negotiations, because he thinks it will yield him something," Buttu told VICE News. "But it's the wrong calculation given the US's relationship with Israel."

Abbas's dogged commitment to negotiations and diplomacy — notably the UN statehood bid — might not only be futile, but could actually be detrimental to achieving a long-term solution, she added. "A vocal criticism [from other Palestinian groups] is that these initiatives aren't taking us anywhere, but are simply a buying-time mechanism," said Buttu.

Buttu added that considering the dismal outcome of the past 21 years of on-again, off-again negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, Abbas should start considering alternatives to diplomacy and negotiations if he is serious about reaching a solution.

"I think what [Abbas] should be doing is a South African-style accountability push, meaning holding Israel accountable for the apartheid they're holding and push for boycotts, for sanctions, for divestment, push for Israel's isolation," said Buttu.

The question of Israel's isolation in the international arena brings up the issue of Palestine seeking membership at the International Criminal Court (ICC). Palestinian leaders have repeatedly threatened to refer crimes it says Israel committed in its territory to prosecute Israel in the international tribunal for alleged war crimes, but have yet to do so.

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Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, a founder of the Palestinian National Initiative and member of the Palestine Liberation Organization's central council, is one prominent Palestinian voice that has advocated going to the ICC as a more effective way of increasing international pressure on Israel.

"Going to the Security Council cannot be a substitute for going to the ICC," Barghouti told VICE News. "This is an issue that has been avoided and delayed longer than it should have been, and we hope that the whole issue of [statehood] at the Security Council is not another way of wasting time."

Earlier this month, Palestine was upgraded to "observer status" at the ICC after 122 members of the court voted unanimously to approve the measure. The Palestinian delegation became eligible to ratify the Rome Statute — the treaty that established the ICC — after the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly approved a resolution upgrading Palestine from observer status to a "non-voting member state" in 2012.

The recognition of Palestine as an observer in the ICC is largely symbolic at this point since Palestine is not yet under the jurisdiction of the court as a state.

If and when Palestine will receive full statehood recognition in the ICC — and thus be able to present cases of alleged war crimes against Israel in the international spotlight — is left up to Abbas.

Abbas has been hesitant to push further ahead under pressure from the US and Israel, who vehemently oppose any action against Israel taken by the Palestinians in the ICC — a fact that is frustrating to Barghouti and many Palestinians alike.

"All we need is a signature from Mr. Abbas and we can move forward in the ICC," said Barghouti.

But as Buttu pointed out, Abbas's Palestinian Authority is almost entirely financially dependent on aid from the United States. Therefore choosing to go the diplomatic route, that has long been proven futile, delays having to make the tougher decision of going after Israel in the ICC, which would surely cause a financial backlash against the PA.

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