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Case Analysis 07 January, 2015

A Reading of US Opposition to the UN Security Council Resolution to End Israeli Occupation

The Unit for Political Studies

The Unit for Political Studies is the Center’s department dedicated to the study of the region’s most pressing current affairs. An integral and vital part of the ACRPS’ activities, it offers academically rigorous analysis on issues that are relevant and useful to the public, academics and policy-makers of the Arab region and beyond. The Unit for Policy Studies draws on the collaborative efforts of a number of scholars based within and outside the ACRPS. It produces three of the Center’s publication series: Situation Assessment, Policy Analysis, and Case Analysis reports. 


On Tuesday, December 30, 2014, the United States, along with  seven other members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), voted against a draft resolution, aiming  to end the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories. The version of the draft resolution which was presented to the Security Council by Jordan, on behalf of the Arab bloc at the UN, affirmed the need to attain a “just, lasting and comprehensive peaceful solution” to the Middle East crisis “no later than 12 months” from the adoption of the resolution. The proposed solution would be based on the June 4, 1967 boundaries. The text, making explicit reference to previous UN resolutions and to the Palestinian territories as the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state, also envisaged an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories no later than 2017. Other specific details discussed in the draft text include a “just” and “agreed upon” solution to the Palestine refugee problem based on UN Resolution 194 of 1948 and the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative,the implementation of security arrangements overseen by a third party; and the ceasing of construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The draft text further explicitly referenced “just settlement of all other outstanding issues, including water and prisoners”1.

Despite the broad similarity between the language of the draft text and the United States’ official position on the resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the Obama Administration lost no time in scuttling the efforts to pass the resolution, with US Secretary of State John Kerry arguing that any UNSC resolution would serve only to exacerbate the conflict2.

Washington Spared the Embarrassment of Exercising a Veto

While it failed to secure the minimum number of nine  votes needed to pass a resolution at the UNSC, the attempts to pass the Arab draft resolution revealed the extent to which the United States was isolated in its unconditional and outright support for Israel. Indeed, had the Palestinian leadership waited until the beginning of 2015 to present the draft resolution, hen the United States might have been forced to use the veto to  prevent the Security Council from adopting it. Such an eventuality would have embarrassed the White House, which does not seem keen on undermining the already fragile military alliance against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) that ties it to a number of Arab states, including Jordan, the sponsor of the draft resolution. 

In line with the protocol of the Security Council, a “no” vote by any permanent member would not count as a formal veto against a draft resolution unless there was a majority of nine UNSC member states—including both permanent and non-permanent members,—in favor of the draft. The Jordanian-sponsored draft resolution won the backing of eight UNSC members, including three of its permanent members: France, Russia and China. The United States was one of two countries to vote against the draft text (the other was Australia). The United Kingdom, the remaining permanent member of the UNSC, was one of five countries to abstain from voting.

As 2014 drew to a close , the two-year rotating membership of five non-permanent members of the UNSC came to an end. The outgoing members included Australia, which had voted against the Palestine resolution; Rwanda and South Korea, which had abstained due to US pressure; and Luxembourg and Argentina, which had voted in favor of the draft proposal. Nigeria and Lithuania, both of which abstained due to American pressure, will keep their seats as rotating members of the Security Council through 2015. States joining the Security Council as non-permanent members in 2015 include New Zealand, Malaysia, Venezuela, Spain and Angola, all of which are generally sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. Notably, Spain’s parliament was one of six European legislatures which recognized the State of Palestine, albeit symbolically during 2014. An assessment of the situation suggests that the Palestinian leadership could have secured the nine votes needed for its resolution to pass, had it waited until the start of 2015, thereby compelling the United States to exercise its veto power. Nabil Aburudene, Spokesman for the Palestinian authority , stated that the Palestinian leadership would go back to the UNSC in pursuit of a resolution to end the Israeli occupation and establish a Palestinian state within the 1967 Occupied Palestinian Territories3.

John Bolton, a former US envoy to the United Nations, and a staunch pro-Israel figure in Washington expressed his fear  of the prospects of a revised draft of this resolution coming back to the UNSC . Writing in the Wall Street Journal4, Bolton suggested that minor amendments to the original draft text might see the Palestinian case win more supporters in the UNSC. Bolton specifically named the UK—the parliament of which passed a resolution recognizing Palestine during October of 2014—and Nigeria—which may want to make a goodwill gesture to the Islamic world in the wake of its confrontation with the Boko Haram extremist group—as countries which could vote in favor of a new Palestine resolution should it come up again in 2015. Lithuania meanwhile, according to Bolton, may follow the UK’s lead to maintain the unity of the European position on this question.  Given Australia’s exit from the Security Council, Bolton expounded worriedly about the possibility that president Obama, free of re-election constraints,   may conceivably decline to use the  veto the next time this resolution comes around.

In an interview with Bloomberg View in March of 2014, President Obama cautioned that the US’ ability to protect Israel in international arenas—and specifically at the Security Council—would be limited unless peace was achieved and the Palestinians were able to establish a geographically contiguous state. According to the US President, it was no longer a question of American willingness to support Israel, but rather a reduced capacity to contain the fallout of increased international dismay at Israeli policies and the lack of any alternative future resolution5.

Nonetheless, the prospect of the United States declining to use its  veto power at the UNSC to protect Israel remains distinctly unlikely: given the bipartisan support which Israel enjoys in Congress, slacking US support for Israel at the United Nations could limit  president Obama’s ability to pursue his domestic and foreign policy agendas during the final two years of his presidency.

Conclusion

The Arab-Israeli conflict will remain a thorn in the side of the Obama Administration throughout the remainder of the president’s term: so long as the White House is incapable of exerting any meaningful pressure on Israel that leads to a just settlement of the Palestinian plight, then the Middle East’s problems will be only further complicated, and US entanglement in the region along with it.

The move by the Palestinian Authority to join 15 international conventions—including, most importantly, the Rome Statute governing the International Criminal Court (ICC)—signal that the conflict with Israel has entered a new phase of direct confrontation. The ascension of Palestine to the ICC means that the Palestinian territories would come under its jurisdiction —notwithstanding the non-membership of Israel in the Court—and that the Palestinian leadership could conceivably prosecute Israel for war crimes against the Palestinian people, including the possibility of proceedings being brought against Israel for settlement construction.

The Obama Administration fears being dragged into exactly this sort of turn of events. While it faces immense domestic pressure to never swerve from supporting Israel, the White House knows better than most that Tel Aviv has consistently destroyed all chances for a settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Another worry for the White House is that Congress could cut US$ 400 million  of annual aid to the Palestinian Authority, which a year,  accounts for half of the budget for the Ramallah-based Palestinian government-in-waiting, and its cancellation could result in the Authority’s total collapse. Such a fear is founded on US legislation that requires an end to financial aid for the Palestinian Authority should it choose to prosecute Israel in international courts6.  In contrast, the Obama White House may also find itself embroiled in Israeli counter-measures to bring charges of supporting terrorism against the Palestinian Authority in US courts7. Unable to face up to Israel’s supporters within its own country, the Obama Administration will resort to pressuring the Palestinians.

 

This Report was translated into English by the ACRPS Translation and English editing team. To read the original Arabic version, which appeared online on January 7, 2015, please click here.

[1]  See draft text of the UN Security Council: http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/2014/916

[2]    Carol Morello and Ruth Eglash (2014). Palestinian-backed resolution fails at U.N. Security Council. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/palestinian-backed-resolution-fails-at-un-security-council/2014/12/30/4aae230e-906e-11e4-ba53-a477d66580ed_story.html. [Last Accessed 1-7-2015].

[3]   See: Al Jazeera Online (2014). Palestinians to make a renewed UNSC bid (Arabic link). [ONLINE] Available at: http://aljazeera.net/news/arabic/2015/1/3/%D8%AA%D9%88%D8%AC%D9%87-%D9%81%D9%84%D8%B3%D8%B7%D9%8A%D9%86%D9%8A-%D9%84%D8%B7%D8%B1%D8%AD-%D9%85%D8%B4%D8%B1%D9%88%D8%B9-%D8%A5%D9%86%D9%87%D8%A7%D8%A1-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A7%D8%AD%D8%AA%D9%84%D8%A7%D9%84-%D9%85%D8%AC%D8%AF%D8%AF%D8%A7. [Last Accessed 1-7-2015].

[4]   See: John Bolton (2015). The U.N. Vote on Palestine was a Rehearsal. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.wsj.com/articles/john-bolton-the-u-n-vote-on-palestine-was-a-rehearsal-1420155634-. [Last Accessed 1-7-2015].

[5]  See: Jeffrey Goldberg (2014). Obama to Israel--Time is Running Out. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2014-03-02/obama-to-israel-time-is-running-out. [Last Accessed 1-7-2015].

[6]  See: Louis Charbonneu (2015). Palestinians deliver to U.N. documents to join war crimes court. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/01/02/us-palestinians-israel-idUSKBN0KB0ZG20150102. [Last Accessed 1-7-2015].

[7]  Allyn Fischer-Ilan (2015). Israel Withholds Funds, Weighs Lawsuits Against Palestinians . [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/01/03/us-mideast-palestinians-israel-idUSKBN0KC07Q20150103. [Last Accessed 1-7-2015].