Israel Pulse

Why Trump can’t save Israeli settlements

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Article Summary
Despite his harsh declarations, not even President-elect Donald Trump has the power to cancel the UN Security Council's resolution against the settlements or quiet the world’s objections to Israel’s policies.

US President-elect Donald Trump’s tweet in reaction to the speech by outgoing Secretary of State John Kerry, who sharply rebuked Israel, was pleasing music to many Israeli ears. “Stay strong Israel, January 20th is fast approaching!” Trump wrote. Trump is promising to teach the United Nations a lesson. When he occupies the Oval Office, the United Nations will not dare treat Israel with “such total disdain and disrespect.” Trump will squash UN Security Council Resolution 2334 condemning the settlements and leave it on the rubbish heap of history. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will prove to all those leftists claiming that his policies will result in Israel’s international isolation that our prime minister can isolate the world. All he has to do is be patient a little longer and wait for Obama to get out of his face.

Not so. Netanyahu's message that Jan. 21 will mark the end of eight cursed years and the start of four auspicious ones is a lie. Hope that Trump the Messiah will provide the settlement enterprise with international legitimacy is designed to lull the Israeli public. No one, not even the president of the United States, has the power to revoke a UN Security Council resolution. The UN is not some entity that has all of a sudden decided to attack Israel. For the past 50 years, all the world body’s member states except for Israel and Micronesia have viewed the settlements as an obstacle to peace, at best. At worst, they regard settling occupied territory as a violation of international law or even a war crime.

Russia’s ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, made some notable comments in the most recent debate over the settlements on Dec. 23. After expressing surprise at the urgency with which the issue was brought up for a vote, President Vladimir Putin’s top diplomat agreed with other speakers who said the settlements undermine the prospects for a two-state solution. The envoy drew direct connections between the settlements, terror attacks and incitement. He reminded his listeners that his government has been involved in the Middle East peace process for a long time and is a member of the Middle East Quartet, which remains important and effective. Churkin said that the Quartet’s report in July was still relevant and that the implementation of its recommendations (among them freezing construction in the settlements and halting the demolition of Palestinian homes in the West Bank's Area C) would help put the peace process back on course.

Trump will find out very soon that changing the traditional bipartisan policy on this issue would be in defiance of the European Union, another senior member of the Quartet. The EU has already decided to label products made in the settlements and to deny the settlers the trade benefits accorded to Israel. UN Security Council Resolution 2334 and Netanyahu’s unbridled attack against the countries that voted for it, among them France, the United Kingdom and Spain, brought the settlement issue to the top of the international agenda. Given the international consensus over the resolution, Trump will have a hard time convincing the EU and its member states to refrain from adopting harsher sanctions against the settlements. Unlike him, European leaders are careful to differentiate between support for Israel’s security and well-being within its pre-1967 borders and support for a government of settlement supporters doing everything in its power to erase those border lines.

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The president of the United States cannot, of course, dictate anything to the International Court of Justice in The Hague. One of the most important articles in Resolution 2334 is the one calling for the implementation of the court’s opinion regarding the separation fence. By doing so, the council validated its 2004 ruling that the sections of the fence that cross the Green Line, including those in East Jerusalem, constitute de facto annexation and a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The court ordered a halt to the construction of the wall in those areas, the dismantling of the sections already built and compensation for any damage caused by the construction.

The judges called on the UN to consider taking action that would terminate the illegal construction of a wall in the occupied territories. The court ruled that states that are party to the Geneva Convention must take steps against those responsible for its violation. Such steps can include severing ties with Israeli politicians living in settlements like Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, a resident of the settlement of Nokdim in the Etzion block. Now that the ruling issued by the tribunal in The Hague against the separation fence has been granted, so to speak, the status of a Security Council resolution, the position of Israeli judges on the issue could be severely criticized internationally. On several occasions, justices of the Israeli Supreme Court had rejected petitions calling for a change in the course of the fence, chief among them Noam Solberg, who lives in the settlement of Alon Shvut (also in Etzion).

The changing of the guard at the White House is not expected to change the rest of the world’s negative views of the Israeli occupation, which marks half a century this year. Trump’s abusive style is not expected to deter sports associations such as FIFA and the Court of Arbitration for Sport from punishing Israel for adding teams from West Bank settlements to its football leagues. Nor will the new American president be able to dissuade academic institutions and labor organizations in his own country from boycotting the settlements and even the state that’is building them. The muscle-flexing by Netanyahu and Trump could energize the rest of the world to remind them of the limits of their power.

One can but hope that Trump's words that sound so good to the Israeli right will turn out to be the swan song of the settlement and separatism policy.

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Found in: us-israeli relations, un security council, resolution 2334, israeli settlements, donald trump, benjamin netanyahu, barack obama, avigdor liberman

Akiva Eldar is a columnist for Al-Monitor’s Israel Pulse. He was formerly a senior columnist and editorial writer for Haaretz and also served as the Hebrew daily’s US bureau chief and diplomatic correspondent. His most recent book (with Idith Zertal), Lords of the Land, on the Jewish settlements, was on the best-seller list in Israel and has been translated into English, French, German and Arabic.

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