UN draft resolution demands halt to Jewish settlements

Edith M. Lederer & Matthew Lee

AP  /  February 17, 2023

UNITED NATIONS – A Palestinian-backed U.N. resolution that could be put to a vote in the Security Council early next week would demand an immediate halt to all Jewish settlement activities, condemn Israeli attempts to annex settlements and outposts, “and call for their immediate reversal.”

In Washington, the State Department said it believed the resolution as drafted was “unhelpful,” but declined to say if it would veto the document or try to water it down to avoid a contentious vote.

Council diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because talks were private, said the U.S. was seeking to replace the resolution, which would be legally binding, with a weaker presidential statement.

The push for a vote on the draft resolution, a copy of which was obtained Thursday by The Associated Press, comes as Israel’s new right-wing government has reaffirmed its commitment to construct new settlements in the West Bank and expand its authority in the lands that the Palestinians seek for a future state.

Israel captured the West Bank, along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, in the 1967 Mideast war. The United Nations and most of the international community consider Jewish settlements illegal and an obstacle to ending the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Some 700,000 Jewish settlers live in the West Bank and Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem.

Ultranationalists who oppose Palestinian statehood comprise a majority of Israel’s new government, which has declared settlement construction a top priority. Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich has vowed to “normalize” life in the West Bank, erasing the differences between living in a settlement and within Israel’s internationally recognized border, and effectively annexing West Bank territory.

The draft resolution, circulated by the United Arab Emirates, the Arab representative on the council, would reaffirm the Security Council’s “unwavering commitment” to a two-state solution with Israel and Palestine living side-by-side in peace as democratic states.

It would also reaffirm the U.N. Charter’s provision against acquiring territory by force and reaffirm that any such acquisition is illegal.

On Tuesday, top diplomats from the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany and Italy condemned Israel’s plans to build 10,000 new homes in existing settlements in the West Bank and retroactively legalize nine outposts. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Cabinet announced the measure Sunday, following a surge in violence in Jerusalem.

U.S. deputy State Department spokesman Vedant Patel told reporters in Washington on Thursday: “The introduction of this resolution is unhelpful in supporting the conditions necessary to advance negotiations for a two-state solution.”

Patel added that Israel’s recent decision to expand settlements and legalize previously illegal settlement outposts was also “unhelpful.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken made that point directly to Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during a visit to Israel and the West Bank earlier this month, U.S. officials have said.

In December 2016, the Security Council demanded that Israel “immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem.” It stressed that halting settlement activities “is essential for salvaging the two-state solution.”

That resolution also condemned “all measures aimed at altering the demographic composition, character and status of the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967.”

The council resolution was adopted after then U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration abstained, a reversal of the United States’ longstanding practice of protecting its close ally Israel from action at the United Nations, including by vetoing Arab-supported resolutions.

The draft resolution before the council now is much shorter than the 2016 resolution, though it reiterates the key points and much of what the U.S. and Europeans have said.

In addition to its demands on settlements, the draft calls for “upholding unchanged the historic status quo at the holy sites in Jerusalem in word and in practice.”

It further calls on Israel and the Palestinians to respect international humanitarian law and their previous agreements and to “to observe calm and restraint, and to refrain from provocative actions, incitement, inflammatory rhetoric and hate speech.”

The resolution’s supporters want a vote Monday, ahead of the anniversary of Russia’s Feb. 24, 2022, invasion of Ukraine, which is being marked by three days of high-level activities at the U.N. starting Wednesday.

Perhaps complicating the matter for the U.S., the Security Council resolution was introduced and is supported by the United Arab Emirates, an Arab partner of the United States that has also normalized relations with Israel, even as it has taken a tepid stance on opposing Russia’s attack on Ukraine.

The U.S. will be looking to the UAE and other council members sympathetic to the Palestinians to vote in favor of a U.N. General Assembly resolution later in the week condemning Russia for invading Ukraine and calling for a cessation of hostilities and the immediate withdrawal of all Russian forces.

Lee reported from Washington