Security Council resolution on Israel will make standoff worse

In his last address to the United Nations Security Council on December 16, outgoing Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon recognised that the UN is biased against Israel.

"Decades of political manoeuvrings have created a disproportionate volume of resolutions, reports and conferences criticising Israel," Ban said. "In many cases, rather than helping the Palestinian cause, this reality has hampered the ability of the UN to fulfil its role effectively."

Only one week later, the Security Council itself passed another Israel resolution. Resolution 2334 said that Israel's settlements in the West Bank have "no legal validity" and constitute a "flagrant violation" of international law.

Settlements and borders are actually among the more resolvable of the core issues of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Two precedents are instructive.

In 1982, following the signing of the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty, Israel withdrew its military forces and civilians from the Sinai Peninsula, dismantling all 18 settlements that had been built there, and returned the territory to Egypt. There has been peace between Israel and Egypt ever since.

In contrast, in 2005, Israel unilaterally withdrew its military forces and civilians from the Gaza Strip, dismantling all 21 settlements there. Hamas seized control of the territory in 2007 and stepped up rocket and mortar attacks against Israeli towns and cities, resulting in three wars.

Given that experience, Israel will not take any action on the settlements or relinquish territory in the West Bank unless it is pursuant to a negotiated peace treaty with the Palestinians.

Any Israeli concessions on settlements, borders and territory must mark the end of the conflict, and not the beginning of the next phase of the conflict. In the 1995 Interim Agreement with Israel, the Palestinians themselves agreed that this must be the case.

Apartment blocks and paved roads have never prevented two warring sides from finding peace. Rather, it is the absence of political will to make painful compromises and lead nations beyond generations of enmity that makes peace so elusive.

Within a year of signing the Oslo Accords with Israel in 1993, Yasser Arafat told congregants at a mosque in Johannesburg that "the jihad will continue". He said any agreement with Israel would be no more than a temporary truce.

It is this tradition of Palestinian double-speak, of promising peace to international audiences while stoking the flames of hatred and war to their own people, that stands between Israelis and Palestinians.

More problematical than settlements is the Palestinians' claim to a "right of return" to Israel, not only for the 30,000 Palestinian refugees from the 1948 war who are still living, but also for all of their descendants ad infinitum, some 5 million people. The notion of refugee status being inherited and passed down in perpetuity to remote descendants who have never fled from their homes is without parallel in international law. It is not applied to, nor is it claimed by, any other refugee group – only by the Palestinians. This is artificially hindering a resolution of the refugee issue.

Then there is the question of Palestinian disunity and extremism. Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007, ruthlessly purged the rival Fatah organisation from the territory and stepped up rocket and mortar attacks against Israeli towns and cities, resulting in three wars.

The unwillingness or inability of the Palestinians to make peace was demonstrated by the collapse of the 2008 round of negotiations, during which Israel agreed to the creation of a Palestinian state. Israel proposed that it annex 6.3 per cent of the West Bank, within which all of the government-authorised settlement construction and expansion occurs and where 80 per cent of the settlers live. This would be compensated with 1:1 land swaps and an access way between the West Bank and Gaza to create a contiguous Palestinian state with a capital in east Jerusalem. The Palestinians rejected the offer without making a counter-offer.

The real difficulty in resolving the settlements issue is therefore not physical but political. In delivering its settlement-centric resolution, the Security Council has, in effect, ignored the issues that go to the heart of the conflict, preferring to fall into the bad habits that Ban Ki-Moon warned about. This will ultimately be counter-productive for all parties.

Resolution 2334 simply indulges the Palestinian refusal to negotiate or compromise. It will only serve to validate hardliners on both sides in the eyes of their own people, and thus cement Israelis and Palestinians into mutually irreconcilable positions.

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