After months of speculation about a United Nations Security Council resolution on Israeli settlements, everyone assumed it was no longer in the works when the Security Council seemed to wrap up its work before Christmas.
But suddenly, there was a flurry of activity and on Dec. 23, New Zealand, Malaysia, Senegal, Venezuela and Egypt sponsored a resolution calling on Israel to stop settlement expansion and condemning the use of violence by all sides.
The U.S., which has veto power as one of the “Permanent Five” members of the Security Council, has frequently blocked resolutions critical of Israeli policies. But this time the U.S. abstained, letting the resolution move forward, and it passed.
The response from the Israeli government was swift and strong, declaring it will not abide by the resolution and summoning ambassadors to reprimand them for their countries’ votes. When the new U.S. Congress convened on Jan. 3, it moved quickly to condemn the U.N. action as an obstacle to Israeli-Palestinian peace.
Rather than breaking new ground, the resolution essentially reiterated previous statements and U.N. resolutions. Several earlier U.N. resolutions, for example, had also described the settlements as having no legal validity. In a speech on Dec. 28, Secretary of State John Kerry noted the resolution’s consistency with the U.S. government’s long-standing position on settlements, under presidents from both parties.
Why are settlements — the establishment of Jewish Israeli communities within the West Bank — so controversial? Many Israelis and their supporters believe that “Judea and Samaria,” the biblical term for the West Bank, rightly belongs to Israel. And so for years, Israel has actively expanded settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
From the perspective of Palestinians and international humanitarian law, however, these settlements are illegal. They are built on land forcibly taken from Palestinians, whose families have lived there for centuries.
Israeli settlers have many privileges denied to Palestinians. While settlers enjoy swimming pools and regular access to water, Palestinians often struggle to have enough clean water for drinking and bathing. Within the West Bank, two separate and unequal systems exist — one for Israelis, the other for Palestinians.
What will be the impact of the U.N. resolution? Perhaps not much. The incoming U.S. president has made clear his unhappiness with the U.N.’s action. His nominee for ambassador to Israel strongly supports settlements and goes even further by calling on Israel to formally annex parts of the West Bank, a serious breach in international law.
The U.N. resolution rightly points out that the status quo is not sustainable. The use of violence by all sides is not sustainable and does not make for peace. Nor do unjust policies that inherently favor one people over another.
Throughout Scripture God decries injustice. The prophet Habakkuk proclaimed, “Alas for you who build a town by bloodshed and found a city on iniquity” (2:12).
This year marks 50 years of Israel military occupation — a supposedly temporary condition that now has impacted the lives of multiple generations. The year 2016 ended with a clear statement from the U.N. on the things that make (and don’t make) for peace (Luke 19:42). Will 2017 move us toward peace or in the opposite direction?
Rachelle Lyndaker Schlabach directs the Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office.