There’s nothing like being pleasantly surprised for the holidays:
The U.N. Security Council will vote on Friday on a resolution demanding an end to Israeli settlements, defying pressure from U.S. President-elect Donald Trump as well as Israel and several U.S. senators who urged Washington to use its veto.
The United States is likely to abstain on the resolution, which was abruptly withdrawn by council member Egypt on Thursday but later presented by four other members. This would be a relatively rare step by Washington, which usually shields Israel from such action.
A U.S. abstention would be seen as a parting shot by U.S. President Barack Obama who has had an acrimonious relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and who has made settlements a major target of peace efforts that have proven ultimately futile.
Assuming the US really does abstain, well, damn. That’s a huge, if fleeting, change in US policy and a nice parting gift–one I will admit I didn’t see coming–from Obama to Netanyahu. I assume Abdel Fattah el-Sisi won’t mind, since Egypt’s fingerprints are now mostly off of its resolution, but I do wonder how his people will vote if they believe a US veto is not forthcoming.
It’s important to understand that in the big scheme of things a resolution like this means nothing. Israel will continue annexing the West Bank and cleansing it of any Palestinian presence, and there’s nothing that anybody can or will really do to stop it. Certainly the Trump administration, which–Defense Secretary-designate Mattis excepted–if anything looks like it might be more extreme on settlements than Israel’s own radical right-wing government, isn’t going to do anything to push Israel to slow settlement construction down or roll it back.
However, international pressure can work, sometimes, and Israel is sensitive to international pressure. At the very least, Benjamin Netanyahu seems to be taking this whole thing as a personal insult, and frankly it couldn’t happen to a more deserving guy. And a resolution like this could also give the Palestinians some support when contesting settlements in other forums, like the International Criminal Court. The ICC is also effectively toothless, but the more institutions that condemn the settlements, the more incentive there is for governments, particularly in Europe, to begin considering the issue when making policy with respect to Israel. So this resolution (again, assuming it actually passes) would be only a small step in the right direction, but it would be a step.
UPDATE: And the resolution passes with the US abstaining. This is one of the few times where my pessimism about US foreign policy has proven to be misplaced.
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