U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield speaks during a U.N. Security Council meeting in New York City on February 20, 2023.

U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield speaks during a U.N. Security Council meeting in New York City on February 20, 2023.

(Photo: Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

For First Time in 6 Years, US Allows UN Security Council to Denounce Israeli Settlements

One human rights campaigner said the watered-down statement is "a far cry from the full-throated condemnation the grave situation deserves."

The United Nations Security Council on Monday unanimously approved a formal statement expressing opposition to Israel's ongoing expansion of illegal settlements on Occupied Palestinian Territory, the first time in more than six years the United States has permitted the body to rebuke its close ally.

Washington's support for the statement—a non-binding measure requiring consensus from the 15-member council—came after the Biden administration pressured the United Arab Emirates to abandon its plan to call for a vote on a stronger, legally binding resolution that the U.S. almost certainly would have vetoed.

As The Associated Pressreported Monday: "The Palestinian-backed draft resolution was the subject of frantic talks by senior Biden administration officials including Secretary of State Antony Blinken with Palestinian, Israeli, and United Arab Emirates leaders. Those discussions culminated in a deal Sunday to forego it in favor of a weaker presidential statement that is not legally binding, according to multiple diplomats familiar with the situation."

The watered-down statement says, "The Security Council reiterates that continuing Israeli settlement activities are dangerously imperiling the viability of the two-state solution based on the 1967 lines."

"The Security Council expresses deep concern and dismay with Israel's announcement on February 12," the statement continues, referring to far-right Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's administration's decision to retroactively authorize nine illegal settlements built without government approval in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem—and its plans to erect even more.

According to AP:

The presidential statement does not condemn Israeli settlement activity or demand a halt. It does condemn "all acts of violence against civilians, including acts of terrorism."

On settlements, the Security Council statement also "strongly opposes all unilateral measures that impede peace including... Israeli construction and expansion of settlements, confiscation of Palestinians' land, and the 'legalization' of settlement outposts, demolition of Palestinians' homes, and displacement of Palestinian civilians."

In contrast to the agreed-upon presidential statement, the tabled draft resolution "would have demanded Israel 'immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory,'" Reutersreported.

To be adopted, Security Council resolutions must receive nine votes in favor and no vetoes from the body's five permanent members: Britain, China, France, Russia, and the United States. The council's last resolution condemning Israel's illegal settlements was passed in December 2016 when U.S. President Barack Obama's administration abstained from the vote.

U.S. President Joe Biden's ambassador to the U.N., Linda Thomas-Greenfield, told the Security Council on Monday that Washington is opposed to Israel's move to retroactively "legalize" nine settler colonies—considered illegal not only under international law but also under Israeli law—and its plans to construct 10,000 new housing units on land stolen from Palestinians.

"These unilateral measures exacerbate tensions," said Thomas-Greenfield. "They harm trust between the parties. They undermine the prospects for a negotiated two-state solution. The United States does not support these actions full stop."

The ambassador described the presidential statement as "real diplomacy at work," arguing that it shows "how seriously this council takes these threats to peace."

"Council members should at a minimum adopt a resolution that clearly condemns as illegal all Israeli settlements on Occupied Palestinian Territory and demands they be dismantled."

While an infuriated Netanyahu asserted that "the declaration didn't need to be said and the United States didn't need to join it"—an opinion shared by right-wing U.S. lawmakers including House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.)—Palestinian U.N. envoy Riyad Mansour welcomed the move.

"We are very happy that there was a very strong united message from the Security Council against the illegal, unilateral measure" announced by Israel on February 12, Mansour told reporters.

"I think the fact that we reached a unanimous agreement on a presidential statement is a very important step in the right direction," he said.

"All the ingredients are there for us to reach a point of no return," Mansour had told the council earlier. "Every action we take now matters. Every word we utter matters. Every decision we delay matters."

Louis Charbonneau of Human Rights Watch, however, was less complimentary.

"While it's helpful to have the U.N. Security Council criticize Israeli human rights violations against the Palestinians, today's statement, diluted under pressure from the U.S. and Israel, is a far cry from the full-throated condemnation the grave situation deserves," he wrote on Twitter.

"Council members," he added, "should at a minimum adopt a resolution that clearly condemns as illegal all Israeli settlements on Occupied Palestinian Territory and demands they be dismantled."

AP reported that the U.S.—the only Security Council member opposed to the stronger resolution—didn't want to use its veto because it "would have angered Palestinian supporters at a time when the U.S. and its Western allies are trying to gain international support against Russia for its war with Ukraine."

"To avoid a vote on the draft resolution," the outlet reported, citing multiple diplomats, "the U.S. managed to convince both Israel and the Palestinians to agree in principle to a six-month freeze in any unilateral action they might take."

According to AP:

On the Israeli side, that would mean a commitment to not expanding settlements until at least August, according to the diplomats. On Monday, the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would not greenlight any new wildcat settlements in the West Bank beyond nine outposts that it approved retroactively earlier this month.

On the Palestinian side, the diplomats said it would mean a commitment until August not to pursue action against Israel at the U.N. and other international bodies such as the World Court, the International Criminal Court, and the U.N. Human Rights Council. But Mansour said the U.N. General Assembly's request to the U.N.'s highest judicial body, the International Court of Justice also known as the World Court, for an advisory opinion on the legality of Israeli politcies in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem is going ahead.

Roughly 700,000 Israelis live in illegal settlements that have been built in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem since Israel violently seized those Palestinian territories, along with Gaza, in 1967.

International law prohibits occupying forces from transferring their civilian population into occupied territories, prompting a top U.N.-appointed expert to characterize Israeli settlements as a "war crime."

More than 50 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces in the occupied territories since Netanyahu returned to power at the end of last year.

Israel, the recipient of $3.8 billion in U.S. military aid each year, has been denounced as an apartheid state by multiple human rights groups.

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