By Daud Abdullah*
If UN Security Council Resolution 2334 regarding Israel’s illegal settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories is to be worth the paper it’s written on, certain tangible steps must be taken. Failure to act will make it worthless.
First and foremost, there must be a serious review of Israel’s membership of the world body. Ever since it was carved out of the land of Palestine, Israel’s leaders have projected their country as something exceptional and thus entitled to special treatment. Israel is indeed unique; it is the only state in the world that owes its very existence to a UN resolution – 181 (II). Its membership was, however, conditional, and remains so.
Upon admission to the world body, the new entity gave a solemn undertaking to respect the General Assembly Partition Resolution (of Palestine) and the status of Jerusalem contained therein. This included the requirement to allow Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and land. Israel has repudiated these conditions. The UN is, therefore, well within its rights to suspend Israel from participating in all of its bodies and institutions, as it did with the South African apartheid regime in 1974 and the former Yugoslavia in 1992.
After decades of burying their heads in the sand there is now a growing realisation among Western leaders that Israel’s exceptionalism is actually a destabilising factor, not only the Middle East but increasingly so in the West. Recent intelligence documents leaked by Edward Snowden revealed that Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) had warned in 2008 that “the Israelis remain a real threat to the stability of the region…”
Inevitably, Israeli officials have poured scorn on the latest Security Council resolution. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office described it as “shameful” and vowed not to abide by its terms. Rightfully, the resolution calls for an end to all “settlement activities” on Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, noting that they have “no legal validity.”
Though such contempt for the will of the international community is not something unique to Israel, it is precisely such open defiance of the rule of law which has created the current chaos in the Middle East. Failure to act will only make matters worse. The threat posed by Israel’s intransigence must not be taken lightly. Already, it has announced that it “looks forward to working with president-elect Trump and with all our friends in Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, to negate the harmful effects of this absurd resolution.”
Instead of awaiting this eventuality, the General Assembly must act to suspend Israel from UN bodies. Should this corrective measure fail to bring about the desired compliance, it must then resort to economic, diplomatic and travel sanctions of the kind imposed successfully against the racist South African apartheid regime.
Secondly, on the regional level, the League of Arab States must ensure that the current Egyptian government is never again entrusted with any peace initiative on Palestine, even if this means that the organisation’s headquarters has to be moved from Cairo. It has become patently clear that the current Egyptian government under Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi cannot be entrusted with any leadership role on the Palestine issue. Without the backing of Israel and the US, the coup leaders who toppled the country’s democratically-elected civilian government could not have survived for one week. They are now evidently beholden to the extremist government in Tel Aviv and their ilk; this alone has to be a valid enough reason to question its ability to act independently and resolutely to support the Palestinian people.
Furthermore, instead of acting to protect the legitimate aspirations of the people of Libya, Yemen and Syria, the Egyptian regime has pursued policies that can be described as dubious at best and obstructive at worst. In Palestine, Sisi has allowed Egypt to take a partisan stance, supporting one faction against another instead of promoting a genuine dialogue and reconciliation. Its latest shenanigans at the UN, during which it succumbed to Israeli blackmail, must be the final warning that it is not fit to be entrusted with strategic regional interests.
The manner in which the vote was taken in the Security Council suggests that non-permanent members are ready and willing to uphold the rule of law, even when it means going against the West and its client states in the Middle East. For the Palestinian people who have long endured Israel’s brutal settler-colonialism, the end of 2016 has thus brought some degree of optimism about the future. It is true that they have been down this path before, witnessing the UN take one step forward at critical moments and then two steps backwards thereafter. Their hope will be that 2017 ushers in a clean break from this pattern of international indecision. For the sake of regional stability and global peace, Resolution 2334 must not be squandered. Israel has defied 28 other Security Council resolutions; this must not be the 29th.
*Dr. Daud Abdullah is Director of Middle East Monitor (MEMO).