Even after the UN Security Council rejected an Arab resolution Tuesday that would have established a 12-month deadline for a Palestinian-Israeli peace accord and given Israel three years to return to its pre-1967 borders, Arab states said they would continue to look to the UN to resolve the conflict.
The U.S. and many other supporters of a two-state solution had called the Arab resolution — which in an unusual move was voted upon without debate — ill-timed, counterproductive, one-sided and drawn up without sufficient consultation.
It needed nine votes of the 15-member Security Council to pass and received eight: China, France, Russia, Argentina, Chad, Chile, Jordan and Luxembourg. Two countries voted no: the United States and Australia. Five countries abstained: the United Kingdom, Lithuania, Nigeria, Korea, Rwanda.
“The right resolution at the UN could be helpful in restarting the peace process after the Israeli election [March 17],” said Alan Elsner, a spokesman for J Street, a nonprofit U.S.-based group that promotes a two-state solution to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “This resolution is not the right resolution. There won’t be negotiations before the election — that is clear.”
He said the U.S. should be “working with its partners in Europe and with the Israelis on their own resolution with a timetable that is acceptable to all.”
The American Jewish Committee welcomed the resolution’s defeat. David Harris, its executive director, said that had Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas “devoted as much time and energy to the peace talks with Israel as he has to the UN Security Council, there might have been real progress in achieving a negotiated two-state solution. But, alas, he proves once again that the Palestinian leadership would rather grandstand for its constituency than move the peace process forward.”
Jeff Rathke, a State Department spokesman, said simply: “We don’t think this resolution is constructive. We don’t believe this resolution … advances the goal of a two-state solution.”
He later explained that the U.S. objects to the resolution setting “arbitrary deadlines” that it believes would not be helpful in any negotiations.
“We have concerns about Israel’s legitimate security needs, and so we think this has been rushed,” Rathke said, stressing that the U.S. opposes it both because of its substance and timing.
He added that “even among countries that are longstanding supporters of the Palestinians and that have indicated they would vote in favor of the resolution, many of them have also acknowledged that it is an unconstructive and poorly timed resolution.”
Secretary of State John Kerry spoke by phone Sunday with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and reportedly told him that the U.S. was prepared to veto an initial draft resolution that had been presented Dec. 17.
A new resolution submitted shortly before midnight Monday was described by observers as even tougher, and the U.S. vowed to veto it if necessary. It called for the creation of a Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital (the earlier draft mentioned Jerusalem only as a shared capital) and said security arrangements would include “a third-party presence.”
Dore Gold, a former Israeli UN ambassador and president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, said such a provision is a non-starter because the “doctrine of Israel is to defend itself by itself.”
He told The Jewish Week that the Palestinian effort to gain statehood through a vote of the UN Security Council “is a very serious development because the entire process negates the signed agreements with Israel that go back to the ’90s.”
“It prejudges the outcome of negotiations, like borders and the future of Jerusalem that are supposed to be part of the negotiations,” he said. “And the whole process makes the chances of serious negotiations in the future far more difficult. And the reference to an Israeli withdrawal to 1967 lines — even with minor land swaps — negates Israel’s defensible borders.”
And at time when ISIS is waging war in Syria and Iraq and Iran is “on the verge of gaining nuclear capability,” it would be “insane for Israel to withdraw from the Jordan Valley,” Gold said.
Gerald Steinberg, a political science professor at Bar-Ilan University, said the Palestinians knew the U.S. was going to veto the resolution and their decision to proceed anyway was “all symbolic.”
“This is not a substantive new step that will lead to substantial changes,” he said. “The Palestinians are attempting to gain recognition as an independent state without an agreement with Israel and knowing it would be vetoed.”
But what it does represent is Abbas’ “swan song,” Steinberg said.
Asked if he believes Abbas will be replaced by a new Palestinian leader in 2015, Steinberg said it depends on a number of factors, including Abbas’ health. And he pointed out that Hamas — the Palestinian group labeled a terrorist organization by the U.S. and Israel that controls the Gaza Strip — continues to make inroads in the West Bank at the expense of Abbas’ Fatah organization.
“Palestinians in the West Bank are doing quite well economically and don’t want to be like Gaza,” he said. “The status quo is not a disaster for now.”
Despite a threatened U.S. veto of the Arab resolution, Abbas pressed ahead with a Security Council vote believing he would have achieved something simply by getting this issue before the Security Council, Steinberg said. And he noted that Abbas did it “without giving up anything that [his predecessor, Yasir Arafat] did not give up — no borders have been set, there is no Palestinian recognition of a Jewish state or any compromise on Palestinian refugee claims.”
Moshe Maoz, professor emeritus at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said Abbas had turned to the UN in the belief “Israel is not serious in negotiating” a settlement.
“Most of the international community — especially Europe — supports their goals and so wants to force Israel to accept the Security Council resolution,” he said. “They are using diplomatic tactics against Israel because they believe Israel will not do much at the bargaining table.”
The U.S. and some in Europe had argued that the timing was not right for such a resolution because it could be perceived as putting pressure on Israel, something that would help rightwing parties in the March election, Maoz observed.
“Whether that is correct or not I don’t know,” he said.
Maoz agreed with Steinberg that Abbas decided to press this issue now because he needed to be seen as achieving a victory.
“Many young people don’t listen to him, so he believed the time was right to launch a fight … to gain legitimacy among the Palestinian people.”
Abbas had set the stage for the UN vote over the past several months by convincing several European parliaments to take symbolic votes in support of a Palestinian state. Sweden was the first European Union nation to recognize Palestine’s independence; the parliaments of Britain, France, Spain and Ireland passed symbolic motions. The European Parliament voted to recognize a Palestinian state in principle, but did not back immediate recognition.
Gold said many of those “European initiatives were intended to try to get negotiations back on track. But they are completely mistaken because rather than incentivize the Palestinians to return to the peace talks with Israel, the European initiatives will have the exact opposite effect. The Palestinians will conclude that Israel can be delivered on a silver platter and that all they have to do is sit back and let the European parliaments work. … All these initiatives do is undermine the peace process they claim to be advancing.”
Asked about concerns that a failure to restart peace talks could hurt Israel economically, Gold replied: “I think European leaders made clear that they oppose economic boycotts.”
Steinberg said that even though there “had been concern about an economic slowdown, it never happened and the economy is still booming.”
“I don’t think an economic boycott is a serious issue,” he said. “Israel is not vulnerable. It has a lot of protection against serious economic warfare because the cost of boycotting Israeli products for Europeans would be very high. And Israel has alternative markets like India, China, Korea and Japan if the Europeans decide to pursue economic limitation. It is for that reason Europeans realize such a move would be costly. … An effective boycott against Israel does not seem realistic.”