The resolution “… demands Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem…[which activity has] no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law.”
There are up to 196 illegal settlements on occupied Palestinian land, in addition to hundreds of settler outposts. These settlements host up to 600,000 Jewish settlers, who were moved there in violation of international law and, in particular, the Fourth Geneva Convention.
In respect of resolution 2334, four of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, and all 10 of the current non-permanent members voted in favour of the motion: China, France, Russia, UK, Angola, Egypt, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Senegal, Spain, Ukraine, Uruguay and Venezuela. Although Egypt originally withdrew the proposed resolution which it was championing because of pressure from Israel, it eventually voted in favour, after being castigated by Malaysia, New Zealand, Senegal and Venezuela, who decided to take up the baton. Egypt’s potential moment in the sun was eclipsed. So in the end, 14 out of 15 voted for the resolution.
The wording of the US abstention, however, made it sound very much like a yes vote: Samantha Power said: “The United States has been sending a message that the settlements must stop privately and publicly for nearly five decades… One cannot simultaneously champion expanding Israeli settlements and champion a viable two state solution that would end the conflict. One had to make a choice between settlements and separation”. This sends a powerful message to Israel from the international community ahead of Trump’s typically harebrained approach to the two-stage solution at the heart of international law on the matter.
The resolution has been called toothless, and yet unlike General Assembly resolutions, UNSC resolutions are actually not advisory but mandatory. It is only because Israel will violate with impunity because of the traditional lack of American and European political will in the face of the Israel lobby that such a resolution becomes ‘toothless’. We have seen this with Israel’s total disregard for Resolution 242.
Nevertheless, this departure will put any future Trump Israeli policy, which is widely expected to be strongly biased in favour of Israel, in the position of being “rogue” in the context of international law. The importance of this factor in the long term should not be underestimated, and the assembled council members expressed their unanimous backing of Palestinian rights by applauding after the resolution was passed.
This one action by Obama before his leaving office is a prompt for a reassessment of his foreign policy.
Although Syria is a disaster, one could interpret Obama leaving a void there for Russia, Turkey and Iran to take over, as a good thing in the long-term. Indeed Obama would seem to have bucked an inheritance here. Inderjeet Parmar’s considered thesis is that it was the liberal international policy of the Democratic Party’s establishment that had decided on a course of régime change in Syria prior to 2009 and Obama’s election. Furthermore, it was Hillary Clinton in her role as Secretary of State, who deliberately tripped up the prospects for the Syrian National Council to take a political rather than military course in 2012. Hers was a plan for a war by proxy with her Saudi allies.
The Iran deal with Obama steered though the US legislative against determined efforts by Israel, thus avoiding war with Iran was clearly a positive step.
However, Obama support for the Sarkozy-Cameron idiocy in Libya was hugely destructive, although one might say that this might once again have been as a result of the undue influence of Hillary Clinton.
Another negative is the focus on and then the surge in Afghanistan – Obama’s war of choice.
In respect of Iraq, many in the US believe that the US military should have stayed to stop the sectarianism and the rise of ISIS, and that Obama’s withdrawal was a mistake. However, such a view contravenes the fact that in the first place the American and British militaries fostered the sectarian policies currently tearing the region apart, during their invasion, to further their own ends.
One could conclude in a negative sense that Obama’s wish to disengage from the Middle East, against the wishes of his establishment, was a good thing in the long term. Once the Iraq War was over, the Middle East changed completely and no amount of tinkering by a continued occupation force would have made any difference – and quite likely would have only exacerbated the situation. The decision to leave Iraq was right. The damage was done.
All in all, however, despite the positive glosses, one has to conclude that Obama was a weak president who felt hemmed in not only by the Washington bureaucracy, but also by the Clintonite establishment in his own party. This became terribly clear when he turned out to not be a fair and just enough person to stand against the demonisation of Sanders during the electoral process, which led to Trump’s win. If one is to take Obama’s legacy article in the Atlantic Magazine as a guide to his personality, it gives us a sense of sour grapes and a tendency to blame others for his mistakes. On this basis, could we say that Obama’s non-veto at this historic UNSC meeting was essentially an act of personal revenge over Netanhayu’s constant humiliations, rather than an act of statesmanship?
What should make us lean towards answering that question in the affirmative, is the fact that this was the only UNSC resolution calling on Israel to respect international law that Obama has ever refused to veto. Under George W. Bush, six similar resolutions were allowed through. Under H.W. Bush, nine resolutions critical of Israel were allowed through.
At the same time, Obama awarded Israel with its largest military aid package ever — signing a memorandum of understanding in September that would give it $38 billion over 10 years. This was supposed to be a payment in exchange for Israel accepting the Iran nuclear deal.
As Trump comes into power and takes a firmly anti-Palestinian stand, a much clearer, less duplicitous political environment will reign under American conservatives than ever did under the liberal internationalists of the Democratic Party establishment. The Palestinian people will be able, if not forced, to make better choices, especially about their leadership, and in this they will be supported by the whole world, except for America, whose star is in decline.