‘Hamas suicide bombing plots in Haifa, Jerusalem foiled by Israel’
Israeli security forces in recent months foiled a Hamas plot to carry out a series of suicide bombing attacks in Jerusalem and Haifa, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) announced Thursday.
A joint Shin Bet, IDF, and police operation conducted in May through August of this year uncovered the plans devised by some 20 Hamas operatives in the West Bank city of Nablus.
The Hamas ring had recruited four suicide bombers among its ranks, who were instructed to carry explosives on their bodies and conduct potentially-lethal attacks in crowded areas in Jerusalem and Haifa, according to the Shin Bet.
Investigations revealed that the Palestinian terror cell had also planned to carry out shooting attacks against Israelis in the West Bank.
Israeli security forces arrested the Hamas operatives, thwarting the plans for possible wide-spread death and destruction. According to the Shin Bet, most of the arrested suspects had previously been incarcerated for their involvement in past terrorist attacks and activities.
“The Shin Bet investigation revealed that the matter relates to hierarchically organized Hamas infrastructure, that were it not foiled, would have led to the execution of serious attacks,” said a senior Shin Bet official.
During interrogations, Israeli forces uncovered terrorist infrastructure and weapons-making materials in an explosives laboratory in Nablus.
Some seven kilograms of the highly-explosive substance TATP, or acetone peroxide, intended to be used in suicide bombings at bus stops in the two Israeli cities was reportedly found.
Investigators also seized firearms such as M16 rifles that were said to have been obtained for the purpose of shooting attacks. (Jerusalem Post)
Netanyahu urges US to veto UNSC settlements resolution
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on the United States to veto a UN Security Council resolution that demands an immediate halt to Israeli settlement building.
“The US should veto the anti-Israel resolution at the UN Security Council on Thursday,” Netanyahu wrote in a tweet posted early Thursday.
The Security Council is slated to vote on Thursday on the Egyptian-drafted resolution, which declares that all existing settlements “have no legal validity” and are “a flagrant violation” of international law, and demands that “Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem.”
It stresses that “the cessation of all Israeli settlement activities is essential for salvaging the two-state solution” as these activities are “dangerously imperiling” the viability of any future Palestinian state in the West Bank.
And it “calls for affirmative steps to be taken immediately to reverse the negative trends on the ground.”
A similar resolution was vetoed by the United States in 2011.
The measure also calls for “immediate steps” to prevent acts of violence against civilians, but does not specifically demand that the Palestinians stop incitement to terror, as demanded by Israel.
UN diplomats have for weeks speculated as to whether the administration of US President Barack Obama would decide to refrain from using its veto to block a draft resolution condemning Israel.
The Obama administration has expressed longstanding frustration over Israeli settlement policy, but some US officials have said in recent weeks that Obama is wary of implementing dramatic policy changes, such as a move against Israel at the UN, that would likely be opposed or reversed by the incoming Trump administration.
Egypt circulated the draft late Wednesday and a vote was scheduled for 3 p.m. (10 p.m. Israel time) on Thursday.
The United Nations, as well as the US and most of the international community, maintains that settlements are illegal. The UN has repeatedly called on Israel to halt them, but UN officials have claimed construction has surged in recent months.
Israel’s envoy to the world body, Danny Danon, lashed the resolution late Wednesday, calling it “the epitome of absurdity and UN hypocrisy.”
“A resolution like this won’t advance any [peace] process, but will only serve as a prize by the UN for the Palestinian policy of incitement and terror.
“It’s strange that while thousands are massacred in Syria, the Security Council is devoting time to debating censuring the only democracy in the Middle East. In recent months, we’ve been working with Security Council member states and using all the means at our disposal to prevent the passage of this resolution.”
Referring to the US, Danon echoed Netanyahu: “We expect our greatest friend not to let such a one-sided and anti-Israel resolution pass.” (the Times of Israel)
Former Israeli President Moshe Katsav released from prison
Former president Moshe Katsav was released from Ma’asiyahu Prison in Ramle on Wednesday after serving five years and 15 days of his seven-year sentence for rape and other sexual offenses.
The news that he would be go free emerged suddenly mid-afternoon after the state prosecution, confounding some predictions, announced that it would not appeal the Parole Board’s decision on Sunday granting Katsav’s request for an early release.
The board had granted the prosecution’s request for a one-week delay in implementing Katsav’s release, to allow the state to weigh its options regarding an appeal to the Lod District Court.
Katsav was convicted of two counts of rape, one count of committing an indecent act using force, one count of committing an indecent act, two counts of sexual harassment, one count of harassing a witness and one count of obstructing justice. He entered Ma’asiyahu Prison in December 2011.
Once his release was announced, Katsav held a series of final meetings with prison officials and then made his way outside.
It took about two intense minutes for Katsav to pass the prison gate and walk through a mob of media representatives and into his car for his return home to Kiryat Malachi.
The 71-year-old appeared both happy and somewhat in shock, whether because of his release after so many losses in court, or because of the mass-media attention and flashbulbs, which he did not face in prison.
He was greeted by his wife, Gila, and other supporters, and later by a larger group of family members and supporters at his home.
In Kiryat Malachi, police prepared for the arrival of the former president. However, according to a spokesman for the Lachish region police, no officers were brought from outside the city to secure the homecoming.
“Listen, he’s not a prime minister coming to visit. Everything is pretty normal,” the spokesman said, adding that police were expecting large groups of supporters of Katsav and did not foresee any protests.
Prohibited from speaking to the media as a condition of his release, Katsav did not utter a word, but his wife and lawyers expressed tremendous happiness at his being freed, and his lawyers said he could not contain himself when he was told that the prosecution would not appeal the board’s decision and that he would be released immediately.
In contrast, Meretz chairman Zehava Gal-On; Odeliah Carmon, one of his accusers; and multiple women’s support groups have condemned Katsav’s early release as problematically shifting the narrative to his being a victim from him being the victimizer.
The prosecution explained its decision not to appeal the Parole Board’s decision to release Katsav, saying that while it disagreed with the ruling, the decision was not unreasonable enough for an appeal, which would likely fail.
A Justice Ministry statement explained that Katsav had shown good behavior in prison, that all of the social work and rehabilitation experts were now recommending early release, and that even the prosecution had opened the possibility of an early release in six months.
It added that the early release did not in any way take away from the severity of Katsav’s crimes and that the prosecution’s stance against an early release had once again proved that “in the State of Israel, the law applies equally to everyone.”
Katsav’s release comes with 22 conditions. Some of the notable ones are that he must attend Torah classes at a yeshiva in his hometown on a daily basis, must attend a religious-rehabilitation group once a week, and must meet with a psychologist at least once a week.
He is not allowed to leave the country, must remain at home between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., and may not be interviewed by the media until December 2018, when his seven-year sentence would have been over absent an early release.
The former president also cannot hold any position where he would have authority over women.
The key issue before the Parole Board had remained his failure to express regret, and whether it could be argued that he had undergone some form of substantive rehabilitation in spite of that.
It appeared that part of what convinced the Parole Board to release Katsav was his having expressed some form of regret before them in closed session, though he has refused to do so in public.
“The members of the board were impressed that the prisoner underwent a significant journey since the first meeting of the committee, he removed his [fighting] gloves, he took the hand which was extended to him by the rehabilitation officials, and learned to engage them,” the board wrote.
“The prisoner today understands the meaning of his actions and his part in them, understands the harmed feelings of the women, and regrets the pain which he caused them.”
At the same time, the board said its ordering of Katsav’s release did not disregard the pain of his victims.
“The issue of the victims of the crime was expressed and taken into account during the criminal trial, the sentencing and during the decisions of the Parole Board in its earlier sessions.
The court pronounced its decision, and the prisoner received and served his punishment.
There is nothing about his being released or not being released that takes away from the anguish that the committee feels from [Katsav’s] actions or the heavy severity with which it views them,” it said.
Further, the Parole Board noted that Katsav had taken 43 leaves from prison and returned each time without incident.
The low point in Katsav’s struggle came in April, when the Parole Board rejected his early release request in a detailed opinion, writing, “Before us is a prisoner who denies that he committed the crimes, who continues to claim his innocence despite the court decisions…which was manifested in his appearance before us.”
Also around that time, Katsav had filed a request to President Reuven Rivlin for a pardon in case he lost with the Parole Board. But that process was frozen by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked in mid-June, since her ministry will not consider pardons as long as there are pending legal proceedings.
But all of that was forgotten on Wednesday when the country’s former head of state ended a nearly decade-long saga, leaving prison and returning home. (Jerusalem Post)
Bill Shorten attacked for Israel tweet
Divisions over Labor’s position on Israel and Palestine have deepened after a state parliamentarian appeared to attack Bill Shorten following the Opposition Leader’s meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
NSW Labor MP Shaoquett Moselmane, linking to a tweet from Mr Shorten’s account praising Mr Netanyahu as “a good friend of Australia”, said the Israeli Prime Minister should be tried for international human rights violations.
“As an Australian I detest the idea that Netanyahu is my friend,” Mr Moselmane, a supporter of Palestine, wrote on Facebook yesterday.
“He should be tried on Gaza & for breaches of int law on the rights of the child,” he wrote in the post since removed.
A spokesman for Mr Shorten, who visited Israel with former prime minister Tony Abbott for the Australia Israel UK leadership dialogue said the comments were a matter for Mr Moselmane. “It is to the credit of the mainstream of Australian politics that both our major parties support the right of people of Israel to live in peace within secure boundaries,” Mr Shorten said in Jerusalem this week.
Mr Moselmane could not be reached for comment yesterday.
His comments come just days after several NSW Labor MPs criticised the party for what they perceive to be growing anti-Israel sentiment.
The Labor Israel Action Committee, headed by NSW state members Walt Secord and Ron Hoenig, will work to “restore balance in the Labor Party on Israel and the Middle East”.
It’s understood the group, which has 62 members including federal MPs Mike Kelly and Deb O’Neill, was formed in response to frustration at the influence of former premier Bob Carr and Mr Moselmane, the opposition whip in the legislative council.
The issue threatened to engulf NSW Labor earlier this year after Labor Friends of Palestine moved to ban MPs and party officials from accepting trips to Israel subsidised by pro-Israel lobby groups. Mr Moselmane supported that move. (The Australian)
Israeli woman confirmed killed in Berlin attack
The body of an Israeli woman killed in the truck-ramming attack at a Berlin Christmas market four days ago was identified Wednesday night, ending a search effort by authorities and thin hopes that she was among several people injured in the attack who have yet to be unidentified.
The family of Dalia Elyakim, 60, was informed overnight that she had been confirmed as one of the 12 people killed in the attack, the Israeli Foreign Ministry said Thursday morning. Efforts were being made to bring her body back to Israel for burial, a spokesman for the ministry said.
Her husband, who was seriously injured in the attack, was named as Rami Elyakim, also 60. The two were visiting Berlin from Herzliya, north of Tel Aviv.
Elyakim’s son and daughter arrived in Berlin overnight Tuesday to help with the search for their mother and to visit their father.
President Reuven Rivlin said he had received the news of Elyakim’s death “with great sadness.”
“From here I send my sympathies and offer strength to her family who are by the bedside of her husband, Rami, who was seriously injured in the attack, and we pray for his speedy recovery,” Rivlin said in a statement. “We will remain united and determined in the face of this murderous terror which strikes across the world, and we will fight relentlessly against extremism and hatred.”
Israelis Dalia and Rami Elkayam, who were caught up in the attack at a Christmas market in Berlin on December 19
In addition to the 12 fatalities, 48 people were wounded when a truck tore through the crowd on the day before, smashing wooden stalls and crushing victims in scenes reminiscent of July’s deadly attack in the French Riviera city of Nice.
Sources in the German Embassy told Hebrew press on Tuesday they were remaining optimistic that the Elyakim would be found alive, but that they had also been to local morgues to try and rule out that she was among the dead.
The truck struck the popular market outside the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church late Monday, as tourists and locals were enjoying a traditional pre-Christmas evening out near the Berlin Zoo station.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Tuesday that law enforcement believed the deadly rampage was a terrorist attack. But authorities came under fire Wednesday after it emerged that the prime suspect, a rejected Tunisian asylum seeker, had already been known as a potentially dangerous jihadist.
German prosecutors issued a Europe-wide wanted notice for 24-year-old Anis Amri, offering a 100,000-euro ($104,000) reward for information leading to his arrest and warning he “could be violent and armed.”
Asylum office papers believed to belong to Amri, alleged to have links to the radical Islamist scene, were found in the cab of the 40-tonne truck.
The photo which was sent to European police authorities and obtained by AP on Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2016 shows Tunisian national Anis Amri, who is wanted by German police for an alleged involvement in the Berlin Christmas market attack. (Police via AP)
The photo which was sent to European police authorities and obtained by AP on Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2016 shows Tunisian national Anis Amri, who is wanted by German police for an alleged involvement in the Berlin Christmas market attack. (Police via AP)
Police Wednesday searched a refugee center in Emmerich, western Germany, where Amri stayed a few months ago, as well as two apartments in Berlin, the media reported.
As the Europe-wide manhunt intensified, questions were also raised about how the suspect had been able to avoid arrest and deportation despite being on the radar of several security agencies.
“The authorities had him in their cross-hairs and he still managed to vanish,” said Der Spiegel weekly on its website.
The Sueddeutsche Zeitung criticized police for wasting time focusing on a Pakistani suspect immediately after the truck assault, in what turned out to be a false lead.
“It took a while before the federal police turned to Amri as a suspect,” it said.
The attack, Germany’s deadliest in recent years, has been claimed by the Islamic State group.
Germany has boosted security measures following the carnage, beefing up the police presence at train stations, airports and at its borders with Poland and France. (the Times of Israel)
Official: Low chance of war against Israel in 2017
A senior Israeli military officer said the army believes the chaos in the Middle East has weakened the country’s enemies, creating a low probability of war involving Israel in 2017.
The official said that the army concluded that neither Hezbollah, the Lebanon-based Shiite terrorist organization, nor the Palestinian terrorist organization Hamas which rules the Gaza Strip is interested in sparking a new conflict.
The official spoke on Wednesday on condition of anonymity according to military protocol. He was sharing an official year-end intelligence assessment.
He said that Hezbollah is mired in the Syrian civil war, where it has been supporting Bashar Assad’s government troops. He also claimed that Hamas has lost much of its support from outside Gaza. Still, the official cautioned that an unexpected “dynamic of escalation” could always risk sparking a new conflict.
Israel fought a month-long war with Hezbollah in 2006 and has since waged three wars with Hamas, most recently in 2014.
The official also showed a photograph of a Hezbollah military parade which included several M113 armored personal carriers. He told journalists in English that the “APCs are of the Hezbollah, while fighting in Syria, that they took from the Lebanese armed forces,” Reuters reported.
“We shared this information with other countries, including the US of course,” he said. “I can even say that we recognized these specific APCs with some specific parameters that we know… these were given to the Lebanese armed forces. It’s not an assumption,” he told reporters.
The M113 was first used by the US in 1962 during the Vietnam War. Since then it has been modified and adapted and it is one of the most widely used military vehicles of all time. Some 80,000 M113s have been produced and used by over 50 countries worldwide.
The Lebanese Army has over 2,000 M113s. Tobias Schneider, a defense analyst, has speculated on Twitter that the APCs displayed by Hezbollah came from the Lebanese Army — a charge that the Pentagon denied.
“The Lebanese military has publicly stated that the M113s depicted online were never part of their equipment roster,” a Pentagon official told the Washington Post. “Our initial assessment concurs: The M113s allegedly in Hezbollah’s possession in Syria are unlikely to have come from the Lebanese military. We are working closely with our colleagues in the Pentagon and in the Intelligence Community on to resolve this issue.” (the Times of Israel)
Trump’s Israel envoy David Friedman rattles career diplomats
Diplomats resent ‘outsiders’ such as David Friedman for leapfrogging the system.
by Vivian Bercovici The Australian/The Wall Street Journal
US president-elect Donald Trump’s choice for ambassador to Israel, lawyer David Friedman, has been received in some quarters with contempt and disbelief.
Friedman’s presumed failings are said to be many. As a lawyer, he has no diplomatic or foreign policy experience. He is a right-wing “extremist”, supposedly because he supports expanding settlements and moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
At its core, criticism of Friedman reflects the erroneous notion that only professionally trained diplomats can do the job. That is simply false. Modern diplomacy — which I experienced as Canada’s ambassador to Israel — is an anachronistic system of entitlement and privilege aligned with the aristocratic sensibilities of the late 19th century. The “foreign service” model that prevails today was the institutional response to a surfeit of well-bred, indolent men needing something to do. So they were sent abroad to underwrite fancy parties and salons, in the name of the king, queen or republic.
Two world wars made a hash of the old order, but Western diplomats have held fast to their entitlements. They indulge a posh lifestyle that mostly disappeared from the private sector as governance standards were enhanced. It is difficult to explain layers of servants and personal drivers to shareholders, never mind to taxpayers.
Diplomats used to be important emissaries for their governments. Today that role is greatly diminished. Communication is instant and world leaders are overexposed, like rock stars on MTV. Forty years ago presidents and prime ministers might have attended one international meeting each year; today they are on a summit treadmill. They phone one another and cultivate personal relationships. Diplomats are often sidelined and left to churn out reports that circulate in a bureaucratic vortex.
Diplomacy still turns on the exercise of geopolitical power, as it always has, and on trade, which has changed completely in 50 years. Yet tradition-bound foreign services disdain the sullied world of commerce. In their world view, they — and they alone — are destined to solve the great issues of our time. As a result, there is a notable deficit of business acumen, one of the key elements of modern diplomacy, in many foreign services. Private-sector talent and experience are desperately needed but maligned when recruited.
I know neither Trump nor Friedman other than through the media. But I do know that Friedman has been selected to represent America’s democratically elected president. He will serve at the pleasure of Trump and represent the president’s policies. Friedman is not anointed to go rogue and indulge in personal fantasies.
When I was appointed as Canada’s ambassador to Israel in 2014 by then prime minister Stephen Harper, I was attacked by the press much as Friedman is today. The star political anchor of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation slammed my appointment.
Why? Because I am Jewish and was therefore supposedly biased toward Israel. This was seen as vitiating any competence or skill I might have brought to the job. As a private-sector lawyer with an extensive business background, I was declared — often by cranky retired diplomats purporting to represent the views of their former colleagues — to have no relevant experience. But this simply made plain their ignorance of what goes on in professions in the real world.
Today, Trump and Friedman are excoriated for expressing serious intent to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Some argue this would ignite Muslim fury and global mayhem. But it raises the question: how, exactly, does locating the embassy in West Jerusalem — which is not disputed territory — in any way predetermine the outcome of any negotiations regarding East Jerusalem? It doesn’t. This is a fallacy propagated by rejectionists of Israel and accepted unquestioningly by the international diplomatic community.
The effect of political appointments to diplomatic posts is critical. It signals to foreign governments (and domestic interests) that the relationship is a priority for the elected leader. It also allows the officeholder to select an envoy whom he or she deeply trusts.
Professional diplomats resent the affront that such appointments represent. They reject “outsiders” for leapfrogging the system, for their access to the top, for their perceived impunity, for their utter unsuitability to the exalted foreign service. Friedman may be many things. But the notion that only those who have passed the foreign-service examination are worthy of an ambassadorship is laughable.
Trump was elected by the American people on a platform of change. Those who bring change, by nature, shock the system. The world of diplomacy — in the Middle East and elsewhere — could use more of them. Which is to say, it could use more David Friedmans.
Vivian Bercovici, a former Canadian ambassador to Israel (2014-16), lives in Tel Aviv.
Will Palestinians get a Security Council motion passed – and will it matter?
In the waning days of the Obama administration, three countries are eager to propose anti-settlement resolutions at the UN. Our diplomatic correspondent looks at the timing, the math, and the potential significance
By Raphael Ahren The Times of Israel
Outgoing United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Friday acknowledged a well-established “bias against Israel” within his organization. “Decades of political maneuverings have created a disproportionate volume of resolutions, reports and conferences criticizing Israel,” he told the Security Council, admitting that this situation has often done nothing to help the Palestinians.
And yet, in the waning days of 2016 and the Obama administration, the specter of yet another anti-Israel resolution at the UN’s most important body is again dominating local headlines. Several countries are said to be planning to circulate various drafts with different intentions, though it is unclear if and when who will propose what text, and what would happen next.
Amid the confusion, the only thing that is really certain that Jerusalem continues to object to any resolution in the Security Council, arguing that it is the wrong venue to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which can only resolved through direct bilateral negotiations.
Here are answers to the five most important questions about what Israel can expect from Turtle Bay in the coming days.
Which countries are planning to propose resolutions, and how serious are they about their intentions?
The Palestinians have long threatened to make another attempt at passing an anti-settlement resolution. Palestine Liberation Organization PLO Secretary General Saeb Erekat said Monday that Palestinian and other Arab diplomats were meeting that day in Cairo to finalize the text of resolution to be submitted to the Security Council “by the end of the year.”
Late Wednesday, Egypt, which currently holds a non-permanent seat and represents the Arab Group in the council, circulated a draft that will be voted on at 3 P.M. (10 P.M. Israel time) on Thursday.
In this May 11, 2016 file photo, Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry listens during a press conference after heading a Security Council meeting on terrorism at UN headquarters. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, File)
Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry listens during a press conference after heading a Security Council meeting on terrorism at UN headquarters, May 11, 2016 (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, File)
Additionally, New Zealand — which is leaving the council at the end of the year — announced last week its intention to propose a resolution aimed at safeguarding the two-state solution. Wellington has been toying with the idea of sponsoring such a resolution for nearly two years and has now apparently decided to take the plunge.
It has been eight years since the Security Council passed its last resolution on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, New Zealand’s Foreign Minister Murray McCully told the council last Friday, admitting that there are “a good number of reasons” why further pronouncements in this forum “might be counterproductive or premature.”
However, he added that his country has been working with fellow members of the council on the “type of text that would reassert the two state solution, and call clearly for a halt to the violence and the settlements that threaten to undermine this process.”
It is time, he said, for the members of the Security Council “to stop being bystanders, and to act as the custodians of the two state solution that we should be.”
Sweden, which is starting its two-year term on January 1 — and will immediately assume the body’s rotating presidency — is expected to want to weigh in with its own resolution.
However, Israeli sources said Stockholm is likely to wait and see what happens with the other resolutions and only propose one if none of them is passed. A document detailing Sweden’s program for its term on the council, published earlier this month, merely states that the country has “a longstanding engagement, based on international law, in support of a two-state solution within the framework of the Middle East peace process.”
What exactly would these resolutions say?
Unsurprisingly, the Palestinian draft, as it currently stands, is a long list of grievances and accusations against Israel. It declares all Israeli settlements beyond the 1967 lines, including in East Jerusalem, “illegal under international law… and a major obstacle to the achievement of peace on the basis of the two-state solution.” Indeed, Israeli settlements are “dangerously imperiling” a peaceful solution of the conflict, the draft notes with “grave concern.”
The draft further calls for “affirmative steps” to reverse “negative trends on the ground,” which some observers read to mean a boycott of settlement products.
New Zealand’s draft is more balanced, calling for an end to settlement activity and the “occupation that began in 1967” and for a “firm timetable” leading to an “early return to negotiations” without preconditions. It also requires Israel to cease “confiscations of land and demolition of Palestinian structures.”
On the other hand, the text calls for an “active and sustained Palestinian leadership to deter incitement to violence against Israeli civilians” and an end “to all acts of terrorism” and of “hostile actions and rocket fire from Gaza.”
Seeking to remain evenhanded, Wellington’s draft calls on both parties to refrain from “actions or statements which might obstruct implementation of this resolution” or from “questioning the integrity or commitment of the other party or its leaders.”
The Swedes have not yet circulated a draft.
How likely are these resolutions to pass?
Whether a resolution passes will depend on many factors: on the content, focus and phraseology, of course, but also the date on which it is put to the vote. The composition of the 15-member council changes in less than two weeks, and in a month — on January 20, 2017 — a new government takes power in Washington that would be sure to veto any text that Jerusalem dislikes, which effectively means any resolution dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Both draft resolutions currently circulating would certainly get the nine yes-votes needed to pass in the current constellation of the Security Council, and almost certainly in the post-January 1 Security Council.
Permanent members Russia, China and France are sure to support any draft. If the vote is held before January 1, Angola, Egypt, Malaysia, New Zealand, Senegal, Spain and Venezuela are also near-certain yes votes. Great Britain, Japan, Ukraine and Uruguay can be expected to abstain.
If the resolution goes to a vote after the New Year’s Day, the situation would change somewhat, but not drastically. China, Russia, Egypt, France, Senegal and new members Bolivia and Sweden would be sure to support any draft. If you count Ukraine in, only one more yes vote would be required.
Incoming council member Kazakhstan generally follows Moscow’s lead and is usually automatically counted in the yes camp. However, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s historic visit to Astana this month might conceivably cause the Central Asian country to abstain.
If Britain, Japan, Uruguay and new member Italy were to abstain as well, as is expected, Ethiopia’s support would be needed to reach the nine yes votes. Addis Ababa usually backs the Arab bloc, but it is just possible that Netanyahu convinced the government to change its voting patterns during his visit there earlier this year.
All of this, of course, is informed guesswork. Many governments make their decision literally moments before the vote, often as the result of last-minute changes in the text or secret backroom deals.
How will the Americans vote? Is there a chance that President Barack Obama would not veto an anti-Israel resolution?
If nine members of the Security Council vote in favor of the resolution, one of its five permanent members can veto it. Whether Obama’s lame-duck administration would veto a resolution will to a great extent depend on its content.
The US State Department said Tuesday that its “deep concern” over settlement activity remains intact, but senior officials have in recent days reiterated that the administration would not deviate from its longstanding policy of opposing one-sided resolutions against Israel. Backing — or, more precisely, not vetoing — a resolution condemning the settlements and/or calling for a two-state solution is still being considered in the White House. But most pundits argue that Obama is unlikely to use his last days in office, during a time of immense bloodshed elsewhere in the Middle East, to break with tradition and allow an anti-Israel resolution to pass.
On the other hand, whether a text is considered “anti-Israel” or “pro-peace” lies in the eye of the beholder. If it is a balanced text lamenting the elusiveness of a two-state solution and calling on both Israelis and Palestinians to take steps to advance peace, Obama might even support it. One possible blueprint for such a text could be the Middle East Quartet’s June 30 report, which lambasted Israeli settlement expansions and Palestinian incitement.
That document, seen in Israel as a success because of its unexpected focus on Palestinian wrongdoing, was issued jointly on behalf of United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, US Secretary of State John Kerry, European Union foreign policy czar Federica Mogherini and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
If the Palestinians were to propose a resolution based on this report, which urges Israel to cease expanding settlements and “denying Palestinian development,” the US would be hard-pressed to issue a veto, since its own top diplomat underwrote it.
“The Americans won’t veto a resolution that calls for a return to negotiations, but they will have to veto any text referencing the 1967 lines,” said Alan Baker, a former legal adviser to Israel’s Foreign Ministry. If the Palestinians propose a resolution that reiterates previous Security Council resolutions but does not contradict longstanding US policy — for instance that borders have to be determined in negotiations — the Obama administration might refuse to use its veto “to mollify” the Palestinians, Baker posited. But, he added, it would almost certainly have to block any text seeking to impose deadlines or predetermine borders.
There is precedent for the US supporting Security Council resolutions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In 1979, president Jimmy Carter’s administration abstained on Resolution 446, which determined that Israel’s establishment of settlements in the West Bank had “no legal validity and constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East.” The resolution, which passed with 12 yes votes and three abstentions, also called on Israel “not to transfer parts of its own civilian population into the occupied Arab territories.”
Hamilton Jordan, left, then the White House chief of staff, speaking with president Jimmy Carter at the White House, July 19, 1979. (Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images/via JTA)
President Jimmy Carter, left, with his chief of staff at the White House, July 19, 1979. (Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images/via JTA)
A year later, Carter again voted for a resolution “[d]eploring” Israel’s decision to “officially support Israeli settlement in the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967.”
In 2002, Republican president George W. Bush voted in favor of Resolution 1397, which explicitly called for a two-state solution. On the other hand, in 2011, a resolution condemning Israel’s settlements got 14 yes votes but was vetoed by Washington. The US made it clear at the time that it did not disagree with the resolution’s content but took issue with using the Security Council as a tool to advance the stalled peace process.
“Our opposition to the resolution before this council today should therefore not be misunderstood to mean we support settlement activity,” Susan Rice, then the US’s ambassador to the UN and today Obama’s national security adviser, declared at the time. “On the contrary, we reject in the strongest terms the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity.”
However, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot be solved by even the best-intentioned outsiders, Rice said. “Therefore every potential action must be measured against one overriding standard: Will it move the parties closer to negotiations and an agreement? Unfortunately, this draft resolution risks hardening the positions of both sides. It could encourage the parties to stay out of negotiations.”
Even if an anti-settlement resolution passed, what difference would it make?
In the internal Israeli debate over what could happen at the Security Council in Obama’s last days, very little attention has been given to the question of how much impact an approved resolution would actually have. The answer is quite simple: Not much.
“It won’t change anything immediately,” said Aeyal Gross, a professor of international law at Tel Aviv University, even though — as opposed to decisions taken by the General Assembly — countries are obligated to act according to Security Council resolutions. It is possible that a first resolution might pave the way for another one, which at some point could lead to additional resolutions under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which deals with “threat[s] to the peace, breach of the peace, or act[s] of aggression.”
Hypothetically, an anti-settlement resolution passed under this chapter could legitimize sanctions against Israel or even military force, “but this is very unlikely at this point,” Gross said. “Currently, it would amount only to a diplomatic embarrassment.”
According to Baker, the Foreign Ministry’s legal adviser, any text that could possibly pass would merely serve as “another point that the Palestinians will try to use in their PR fight against Israel.”
Even previous resolutions on the conflict, such as 242 and 338, were “non-mandatory declarations,” he noted. So it is safe to assume that any possible resolution on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “will just be added to the long list of other UN resolutions that nobody but the Israeli public and the Israeli media takes very seriously.”
How Did Israeli Settlements Become a Legally Contentious Issue at the UN? – Dore Gold (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
Right after World War II, the U.S. and its allies wanted to prevent a repetition of the practice of the Axis powers who evicted the populations from the areas that came under their control and forcibly transferred their own populations into those very same territories. For this reason, the Allies drafted the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention in the way that they did. But this is not what is occurring with Israeli settlement activity, as Israel has argued for decades.
There is one place, however, where this scenario is taking place right now – and it is not in the West Bank. It is occurring in Syria, where Sunni Arabs are being systematically replaced by Shiites from Iraq and other countries in order to alter the demographic makeup of the Syrian state, in accordance with the interests of Iran. Tehran wants a Shiite belt from its western border to the Mediterranean in order to establish its hegemony in the Middle East.
And what is the UN doing about this? It is deliberating over a new draft resolution condemning Israeli settlement activity, while ignoring the mass transfer of populations transpiring across the entire Levant. As usual, it is obsessed with Israel while ignoring the dangerous actions of Iran.
The Palestinians themselves agreed in the 1995 Interim Agreement that the issue of Israeli settlements in the West Bank should be addressed as an item for negotiation between the parties. It is not tenable for the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, to repeatedly refuse to negotiate with Israel and then expect the UN Security Council to take up his concerns in his place. The U.S., which signed the Interim Agreement as a witness, should veto the proposed draft resolution on settlements.
The UN, for its part, should take measures to halt the ethnic cleansing of Sunni populations across the Middle East that is occurring today. But that would require standing up to Iran and its allies, which many states sitting in the Security Council are plainly reluctant to do.
The writer, former director-general of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is president of the Jerusalem Center.