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  December 28, 2016

UN Vote Reveals Growing Rift Between Israeli Settlements and US Interests


Netanyahu's response reveals that the Israeli government has no strategic plans beyond hoping that Palestinians will accept life under occupation, says economist Shir Hever
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biography

Shir Hever is an Economist working at The Real News Network. His economic research focuses on Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territory; international aid to the Palestinians and to Israel; the effects of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories on the Israeli economy; and the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaigns against Israel. His first book: Political Economy of Israel's Occupation: Repression Beyond Exploitation, was published by Pluto Press.


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UN Vote Reveals Growing Rift Between Israeli Settlements and US InterestsKIM BROWN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Kim Brown in Baltimore.

On December 23rd, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 2334, stating that Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory are a flagrant violation of international law, and to have no legal validity. Now, the resolution was initially drafted by Egypt, who withdrew it just before the meeting of the Security Council, but it was picked up again by Malaysia, New Zealand, Senegal and Venezuela. The resolution was passed with 13 votes for the resolution, but the US abstained. And no one voted against it. Now, normally, the US vetoes any resolutions criticizing Israel, but this time they didn't. President-elect Donald Trump strongly criticized President Obama's decision not to veto this most recent resolution.

And today we're joined with our Real News correspondent in Germany, Shir Hever, to discuss this. Shir, thanks a lot for being here.

SHIR HEVER: Thanks for having me, Kim.

KIM BROWN: So, Shir, this is kind of a big deal. And explain to us the significance of this resolution, and will it impact Israeli policies at all?

SHIR HEVER: Yeah, well, a lot of people are calling this resolution toothless. The fact that the Security Council passed it doesn't immediately mean that Israel has to do anything, because there's no enforcement attached to it. But, on the other hand, we see all the effort that was put by the Israeli government to try to prevent that resolution, leading up to the actual vote, the Israeli government managed to put extreme pressure on Egypt to withdraw the proposal, the draft. And they threatened New Zealand by saying to the Prime Minister of New Zealand that supporting that resolution would be tantamount to the declaration of war, and so really going out of their way, at great length, to try to stop that resolution because of its very important symbolic significance.

This resolution speaks directly to the resolution of the International Criminal Court of Justice, in Hague of 2004, which called the wall of separation in the West Bank, a war crime. And based on an interpretation of the fourth Geneva Convention and international law, which is now re-iterated in this resolution, and actually saying that the Israeli colonies in the West Bank have no legal basis, is a direct attack on a rhetorical level, on a symbolic level, on the entire policy of the current Israeli administration.

KIM BROWN: So, Shir, what has been the response inside of Israel to this resolution?

SHIR HEVER: The first to respond was the Israeli government, which immediately called an emergency discussion with all of the ambassadors of the countries that supported the resolution, on Christmas, actually. So, this was a very urgent and very offensive attempt to scold these ambassadors. And special effort was put to try to intimidate and bully Senegal, which was one of the four countries that actually promoted the draft for vote, simply because Senegal is weaker than the other countries and easier to bully.

And the Israeli media and the Israeli political system and the Israeli general discussions -- this resolution has a lot of impact, a lot of people are talking about it -- as a very worrying thing, as something that is a threat to Israeli continued policy of the West Bank, a threat to the government's own policies and that's something that seems to unite both the opposition, and the coalition. There is no disagreement of that, among almost all the political parties in Israel, with one exception of the party which is joint Palestinian and Jewish. So, all the other parties, all the Zionist parties are in full condemnation of this resolution. And I think it's very interesting to look at what is their argument, actually.

They're saying, the reason this resolution is bad, is because it emboldens the Palestinians. It gives them hope. And if the Palestinians have hope, and are empowered, they might not be willing to make as many compromises as they would if they are held low and oppressed by Israel and by the international community. So, actually, the logic is, the only way to achieve peace, is if the Palestinians would just give up on their struggle for freedom. And I think that exposes a great deal about how the Israeli political system works -- that there is no willingness to make any kind of compromise on the Israeli side.

It's just holding on to the occupation and waiting for the Palestinians to accept living under occupation. That's obviously not going to happen. But the reaction to this resolution seems to embody this kind of illusion, that one day the Palestinians might agree to live under.

KIM BROWN: Well, the United States abstaining from this vote on the Security Council certainly drew the ire and criticism of conservatives across America, including President-elect Donald Trump who, unsurprisingly, took to his Twitter feed to express his distain about this vote. And let's take a look at those Tweets, if we could, where Donald Trump says, off the top, "He's doing his best to disregard the many inflammatory President O's statements and road blocks. Thought it was going to be a smooth transition... not!" But speaking directly about the UN Security Council voting, the United States abstaining, "We cannot continue to let Israel be treated with such total disdain and disrespect. They used to have a great friend in the US, but not anymore. The beginning of the end was the horrible Iran deal, and now this UN. Stay strong, Israel. January 20th is fast approaching." That is from President-elect Donald Trump, there, Shir.

So, it's pretty apparent how Donald Trump feels about this vote, on the tail end of the Obama Administration. Statement vote from the United States on the UN Security Council, and let's hear directly from the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, about the not-so-unusual historic precedent that this vote set.

SAMANTHA POWER: Today the Security Council reaffirmed its established consensus, that settlements have no legal validity. The United States has been sending the message that the settlements must stop, privately and publicly, for nearly five decades through the administrations of President Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and now Barack Obama. Indeed, since 1967, the only President who had not had at least one Israeli-Palestinian related Security Council resolution pass during his tenure is Barack Obama. So, our vote today is fully in line with the bi-partisan history of how American presidents have approached, both the issue and the role of this body.

KIM BROWN: Well, Ambassador Samantha Power there trying to make the case, Shir, that the United States has been in favor of a two-state solution going back five decades, all the way to Lyndon Johnson, and coming forward to Barack Obama. This is sort of like a mixed message, however, because the United States just recently approved a historic 10-year, $38 billion, military aid package to Israel just in September. Authorized, obviously, by President Obama. So, what do you make of both what President-elect Trump had to say, and the statement from Ambassador Power, representing the Obama Administration?

SHIR HEVER: Ambassador Power is absolutely right, except for one point, when she says that US administration have said that both publicly and privately, publicly, yes, but privately absolutely not. Publicly, the US may have made many statements condemning the illegal colonization of the Palestinian territory, but privately the US has continued to support Israeli policies in both colonization, like you said, delivering a lot of money and a lot of guns to the Israeli military, and very importantly, vetoing any kind of resolution where this policy is criticized.

But I'm actually very curious to know how ordinary Americans are looking at this development, and what kind of impressions they get from this, because Obama was a very, very strong supporter of Israeli policies. And even if there were a few moments where he criticized the Israeli government a little bit, he was a very strong supporter. Now, the message that we hear in Israel from the Israeli government is basically saying, "Obama has betrayed us. Obama has shown his true face of being an anti-Semite, of being an enemy of Israel." And this sentiment, is also mirrored by Donald Trump, but I think everyone understands that this means the only acceptable kind of policy from the next president, Donald Trump, would be absolute submission, to orders being given to him by Israel.

I don't think people in the US would be very pleased with that state of affairs, and I think Trump's willingness to engage in that kind of conversation, to just completely accept the Israeli right-wing narrative, is creating a lot of tension. This could blow up. And at some point, he might decide to completely change his policy 180 degrees, when he sees that this is simply a humiliation for the US, to be following dictates from a small country in the Middle East.

And I think already in Israel, there are a lot of people worried precisely about that, that when Netanyahu has been re-tweeting Trump's tweets, and repeating that kind of criticism against Obama, he's actually causing irreversible damage to the long-term relationship between Israel and the US.

KIM BROWN: And take on that some more, Shir, because to say that this was all just strictly a vote regarding policy, may be over-reading it just a bit. Because there are some personality politics at play here between President Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. I mean, these two have a long-standing, sort of, mutual distaste of one another. I'm also recalling when Benjamin Netanyahu was invited by the GOP leaders of Congress to address Congress, which had been relatively unprecedented for a foreign leader to address both houses of Congress, without the invitation of the United States President and, obviously, this was a sign of disrespect towards President Obama when Benjamin Netanyahu did this.

So, obviously, you know, President Obama has his own motivations, for how the United Nations or the US votes, on the UN Security Council but, dislike of Netanyahu is certainly not out of the scope of consideration as to why the United States decided to abstain from this particular vote.

SHIR HEVER: Yeah. I agree. The personality politics cannot explain this whole, very complex, political situation. Actually, we have legal justification for this resolution, and the main issue is how has the United States, so far, been willing to ignore the international law and existing agreements, in order to continue to support Israel? The fact that Netanyahu has repeatedly offended Obama and insulted him, not just with his visit to Congress, but also in his many statements and personal attacks against Secretary of State Kerry, and so on, these could explain why Obama and many members of the Administration would feel the need to retaliate. And there was an expectation actually in Israel that some kind of retaliation is due and Obama has actually hinted that the United States will not always veto decisions against Israel, if Israel continues to flagrantly disregard international law and the recommendations of the US Administration.

But I think that this is still not the whole story. I think that beyond the personality politics, there are interests, and the interests are that when the Israeli politics in the Middle East become so extreme and so violent, that it leads to destabilization of the Middle East, it also damages the carefully constructed alliances that the United States has built in the Middle East, with countries like Jordan and Egypt and Saudi Arabia. And at that point, Israel is really using every last card in their deck, every last ounce of political legitimacy they have, in order to promote short-term goals, building yet another colony, and solving some kind of internal coalition crisis.

But, in the long term, I think it becomes clearer and clearer, that this whole policy becomes unsustainable. The UN resolution demonstrates that. And one Israeli opposition party made a sign, which said, with the word "BBDS." Bibi being the nickname of Benjamin Netanyahu, and BDS is the political divestment-sanctions movement, which is a local movement against Israeli occupation and apartheid. And by mixing those together, called BBDS, they're saying what Netanyahu is actually doing, is feeding the criticism against Israel and making it easier for groups to criticize Israeli policies. But even the same party that coined this word game, they themselves offer no alternative policy, and that only further shows, that Israel is running at full speed towards a brick wall.

KIM BROWN: Indeed. A noteworthy abstention from the United States on the UN Security Council vote, on Resolution 2334, that would state Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian territories, are a flagrant violation of international law and have no legal validity.

We've been joined with Real News correspondent from Germany, Shir Hever. Shir, we appreciate your analysis today. Thank you.

SHIR HEVER: Thank you very much for having me.

KIM BROWN: And thanks for watching The Real News Network.

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