UN resolution on Israeli settlements reflects “what the world thinks” says former Canadian Amb to UN


Paul Heinbecker, a former Canadian ambassador to the UN, says the recent UN resolution condemning Israeli settlements is not just a personal fight between Obama, Netanyahu and Trump.  It “reflects what the world thinks”, he says. Read more

Much political commentary subsequent  to the UN security council vote on the illegal Israeli settlements has tended to focus on the personal antagonisms between Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, outgoing US president Barak Obama and President-Elect Donald Trump.

However, in an insightful article in the Globe and Mail “Ignore the political theatre, Resolution 2334 has global support”, Paul Heinbecker, a former Canadian ambassador to the UN (2000- 2004) argued that this is much more than a fight between Netanyahu and Obama. It reflects, he argues, a fight between Israel and the rest of the world.

Heinbecker, who spent 4 years at the UN, including during the Iraq war, points out that resolution 2334 reflects evolving UN resolutions on the Israel/Palestine issue including:

  • General Assembly resolution 181 which partitioned Palestine and led to the proclamation of Israel;
  • resolution 194 which resolved that peace-minded refugees of the 1948 war should be permitted to return to their homes; and
  • Security Council resolutions 242 and 338 that emphasized the “inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war.”

The language of  the most recent Security Council resolution is unequivocal. Israel’s settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, have “no legal validity,” they constitute “a flagrant violation of international law,” and they are “a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-state solution and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace.”

“Resolution 2334 reflects what the world thinks. It does not constitute a minority view or even a very divided view. If this resolution of the 15-member UN Security Council were put to a vote in the 193-member General Assembly, the outcome would scarcely be different.” 

– Paul Heinbecker

Mr. Netanyahu is apparently counting on his ability to persuade president-elect Trump and the U.S. Congress to back his policies. But even if they do, neither will be able to erase resolution 2334, nor change world opinion.

“Nor would U.S. defunding of the UN reverse this resolution,” continues Heinbecker, noting that the U.S. has defaulted on its contributions before and the UN has survived. “And, if the U.S. were to walk away from the UN, as some suggest, who would shield Israel then?”, he asks.

Resolution 2334 is very limited. It does not refer to Gaza. It does not refer to the terrible situation of the 5 million Palestinian refugees. It does not even mention the systemic discrimination inside Israel against its own Palestinian citizens. But the result of the UN Security council vote on Israel’s illegal settlements appears to indicate that the US is finding it more and more difficult to defend Israel against legitimate criticism in the court of world opinion.


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  1. Peter, I think your conclusion, and that of Heinbecker, is wishful thinking. The US has no problem defending Israel’s worst outrages, except in this one moment in time. The next President wouldn’t have allowed it; neither would Congress. It is nothing more than a personal act of retribution by a lame-duck President.

    The abstention was the one and only move that the hapless ‘leader of the free world’ for 8 years might risk in Lobby-occupied D.C.

    1. Hey Robert, thanks for commenting. Perhaps you are right, but I don’t think so. It is not hard to understand why those who support Palestinian Human rights have become cynical and think things will never change.
      But I don’t think that there is any Canadian better placed than Amb. Heinbecker to judge the evolution of world opinion on this issue. How long can the US keep protecting Israel when it has so many other challenges to deal with – China, Russia, Mexico, Iran, etc. etc. ? I don’t think it is about to change soon, but neither do I think they can hold on indefinitely.

      1. @Peter —

        How long can the US keep protecting Israel

        Protect Israel? I’d argue they are protecting the UN system much more than Israel. US law on these issues is summarized in the Jerusalem Embassy Act (https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Jerusalem_Embassy_Act_of_1995). That Act holds that Jerusalem is Israeli. The Republican party aims to extend US recognition to all Israeli controlled territories. They believe (rightfully IMHO) that Israel’s territorial claims are being diminished through external pressure and that Israel should be able to choose natural borders without external coercion. The Democratic platform is much weaker than the resolution. Obama’s own policies are substantially more friendly to Israel in particular the resolution calls for two democratic states while Kerry’s position is a Jewish state and an Arab state.

        The dilemma the USA faces is pretty simple. International public opinion on Israel is ridiculous. In private the Arab states are horrified about having something like Libya breakup but with a first world army breaking into pieces and then those factions allying with local factions in various countries spreading chemical, biological and nuclear weapons to factions all over the Arabian peninsula and the world. Israel was too powerful in the mid 1950s for the USA and allied powers to live with the destabilizing consequences of an isolated Israel brokering an independent policy. Israel in the mid 1970s showed the Soviets how dangerous and how effective it could be when militarily challenged even against far more powerful countries.

        The whole stop protecting Israel thing was tried in the mid 1970s by Ford and Carter. The USA stepped back and allowed the Soviets to take a harder more confrontational approach with Israel. Israel responded to the USA’s censure by conducting espionage and massive semi open development of weapons to develop an independent viable nuclear deterrent against the Soviet Union. This response partially shattering USA non proliferation policy and worse destabilized nuclear policy which created a genuine national security threat to the USA. This was a foreign policy disaster that Carter ended up reversing entirely. A similar thing happened in the 1950s to Eisenhower.

        The idea of replaying those scenarios today with a much more powerful Israel over Palestinian rights is simply ridiculous. The UN left to its own devices would pass article 7 resolutions against Israel that the world would be completely unable / unwilling to enforce. The disposition of the West Bank is not a vital national security interest to anyone but Israel. Foreign policy realist regardless of how much they might detest Jews and sympathize with Palestinians understand that the likely consequences of trying to implement UN policy is one or more Israeli wars, and not baby kinds border conflicts like recent flareup in Lebanon (which was a taste of what would happen) but the real thing full on no holds barred combat. Picture for a moment Syria where Assad, Al Nusra and ISIS all had ICBMs in place of barrel bombs. The end of Zionism with today’s Israel likely means the death of 100m people.

        The world has a strong vested interest in Israel being military secure. Irresponsible factions within the UN easily have the votes to undermine that policy. Once those article 7 resolutions are passed since no one has any intentions of acting on them these resolutions would remain unenforced. What would happen those is those resolutions would be seen as discrediting and double standards when article 7 resolutions are passed that the world would like and is willing to enforce.

        The only thing that comes from “not protecting” Israel is discrediting the UN. The IDF protects Israel. The USA is protecting the UN from its own foolishness.

  2. I don’t see this as any form of last minute retalliation on the part of the Obama administration. Nor would I categorize it as merely what the world thinks.

    It is merely a restatement if prior UNSC resolutions and a clear statement of the law that the Israeli settlements are not only clearly illegal but a flagrant violation of the GC. This has also been reflected in various decisions of the ICJ and even cases dealt with by the high court of justice in Israel.

    For a half century Israel has ignored not only these decisions and determinations but has ignored the law and rule of law. This clearly places it in a rogue state status.

    While we will no doubt see attempts to justify the unjustifiable behaviour of Israel there is no doubt that they will be filled with bafflegab and red herrings.

  3. A 100 years after 1st WW that brought huge changes including new super powers and alliances; 2017 appears to be like 1917: re-configure alliances and re-shape World order: Brexit, kicking ISIS out of Aleppo and UNSC resolution 2334 are few of such changes.
    The Palestinian/Israeli conflict is one of the major dividing issues that would be considered for joining new alliances; Israel is one of the states that needs and cannot survive alone….

    UK helped create Israel (1917-1948); the USA, France and Germany paid for developing the state and may continue doing so, but there are changes; most important is people in the world know more about Israel.

    Israel more than anytime before must do the right thing, decide right now how it should be: living in wars or in peace! “Israeli choices”

    1. @Abdul

      The people who developed the state were the Jewish immigrants. They were the ones who died cleaning out the swampland and creating fertile regions where malaria and starvation had existed. They were the ones who created the citrus boom. They were the ones who built a modern medical and transportation system to replace the barely functional colonial system. They were the ones who created industry especially the textiles boom. They were the ones who created the current technological boom.

      Now certainly they got help. Jews enthusiastically supported the reparations payments for the holocaust going to Israel. Jews funded a large bond buying and investment program in the 1950s. They also got a lot of harm. They faced constant war with their neighbors. They faced (and mostly still face) a boycott from their neighbors. At a time they were economically damaged from war they were deliberately flooded with refugees to create an economic crisis. Those harms cancel out the development money. The state wasn’t paid for it developed. It developed because the people who live their love their new home and want to make it better.

      Israel isn’t the one who choose war. What they did choose was a full life. Jews in the form of Israel may be hated by their haters no longer have the power of life and death over them. They are no longer a dirty, poor population suffering for a hundred generations on the edges of societies when they are being killed and expelled. What Jews have today is far closer to peace then they have ever had. Of course they would love more peace but not a peace that means returning to statelessness.

  4. The position just taken by the UN with regard to Settlements should be strongly reinforced by our Prime Minister who, has demonstrate that with regard to Israel there is little difference between his stance and that of Stephen Harper.

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