Does President Obama intend to permit the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to pass a resolution criticizing or condemning Israel for the “settlements” –– the Jewish communities in the West Bank –– as illegal or an obstacle to peace and calling for peace agreement encompassing a Palestinian state?
It depends which Obama Administration officials one asks.
Thus, State Department spokesman Mark Toner responded on this question, “I can firmly shut that door … our position hasn’t changed in terms of action on this issue at the UN Security Council … [We’re] opposed to it.”
But Mr. Toner’s State Department colleague, John Kirby, doesn’t agree. Asked the identical question two days later with reference to a Palestinian draft resolution circulating informally at the UN, Mr. Kirby replied, “I’m not going to comment on an informal draft resolution.” Pressed on the consequent implication that the U.S. is not automatically opposed to such a resolution, Mr. Kirby simply repeated his refusal to comment.
A similar response came from Anne W. Patterson, Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, in a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee hearing.
Accordingly, the Obama Administration is leaving it open to itself to take the step of introducing a resolution, or at least not opposing another country’s resolution, at the Security Council.
Why is this so serious a matter to Israel and to peace-making?
Because any such resolution will rewrite UNSC Resolution 242, which demands secure and recognized borders for Israel, not the vulnerable 1949 armistice lines which preceded the 1967 war and emboldened Arab aggression.
In contrast, a new resolution, calling for Palestinian state, will demand a virtual return of Israel to the 1949 armistice lines, something President Obama has been pressing, to general Israeli dismay, since 2011.
Indeed, President Obama called explicitly for an Israeli withdrawal to these lines, subject only to “agreed swaps” –– a caveat that at once limits any changes to the 1949 lines as minimal and actually gives the Palestinians an automatic veto over Israel retaining anything beyond them.
A new resolution will also seek to delegitimize the presence of Israeli Jews living in the West Bank. This would confer approval on the popular but legally baseless notion, based on a willful distortion of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, that Jewish residence and construction in the West Bank is illegal.
Article 49 prohibits “Individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power … The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”
As Palestinians are being neither deported nor forcibly transferred from the West Bank and Israelis are neither being deported or forcibly transferred to the West Bank, Article 49 has no bearing on the situation.
Despite this, some point to the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which seemingly widens the scope of ‘transfer,’ by adding the words “directly or indirectly.” But if compulsion is the touchstone, these qualifiers change little. But even if they changed much, some 40 countries, including free societies like India, Israel and the U.S., have either declined to sign or to ratify the Treaty, making its application here nugatory.
The territory of the West Bank was earmarked for Jewish settlement in 1920 at the San Remo Conference that drafted the League of Nations Charter. This decision, enshrined in the British Mandate for Palestine that shortly followed, has never been superseded by an internationally binding agreement. To the contrary, it was reaffirmed by Article 80 of the UN Charter.
The Oslo agreements do not prohibit Israeli residence and construction in these territories; to the contrary, they provide for continued Israeli and Palestinian construction and thus Jewish residential rights remain unimpaired. In the absence of a peace settlement, the territory remains unallocated territory under international law. [Correction: Moreover, upon Israel’s recapture of Judea/Samaria in a defensive war in 1967, the area was restored to the status of land designated for the Jewish homeland and Jewish settlement under international law.]
The Palestinian Authority’s Mahmoud Abbas has refused negotiations offered by Israel for all but two meetings, held in a single week, during the past seven years. As repeated polls show, most Palestinians do not accept Israel’s existence and legitimacy.
This is the actual problem and also the necessary focus of international diplomacy –– not rewriting Resolution 242 so as to bend international law and enshrine the discriminatory idea that Israeli Jews, and only Israeli Jews, because they are Israeli Jews, may not live or build communities in the biblical, historical and religious homeland of the Jewish people.
A bipartisan supermajority in Congress opposes a new UNSC Resolution on Palestinian statehood, as evidenced by the 394 of 435 House Members who have signed a letter to that effect to President Obama. Last year, Senator John McCain (R–AZ) also threatened Congressional termination of U.S. funding for the UN if the Obama Administration permitted such a resolution to pass. A reiteration by Congress of this warning would be timely.
Morton A. Klein is National President of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA). Dr. Daniel Mandel is Director of the ZOA’ s Center for Middle East Policy and author of H.V. Evatt & the Creation of Israel. Routledge, London, 2004.
This article was published by the Jewish Voice and may be found here.