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Settlements vote a 'step forward,' say Palestinians

Palestinians believe the UN resolution to halt Israeli settlements is a step forward, but are sceptical about its implementation
Israeli soldiers take position in Nabii Saleh village, near Ramallah, after a demonstration against the expansion of Israeli settlements in April 2014 (AFP)

On Friday evening, the UN Security Council voted in favour of a resolution which demanded a halt to all Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian Territories.

The resolution was sponsored by New Zealand, Senegal, Venezuela and Malaysia after Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi withdrew from sponsoring it following a phone call with US President-elect Donald Trump.

While the Israeli ambassador to the US, Danny Danon, expected a US veto, the Obama administration notably abstained from the vote despite having vetoed a similar resolution in 2011.

Palestinian officials and diplomats from various Palestinian political factions were quick to show their appreciation of the UNSC vote for the resolution.

Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhoum said in a press release that the Islamic movement "treasures" and "welcomes" the position of the states which voted in favour of a resolution that stands with the rights of the Palestinian people.

Although rivals in the internal political sphere, the Palestinian Liberation Organisation - and ruling party of the Palestinian Authority - shared similar sentiments with Hamas.

The Palestinian ambassador to the UN, Riyadh Mansour, addressed the Security Council in a statement saying the “resolution represents a necessary step for addressing one of the most critical aspects of the longest issue on the UN agenda". Adding to that, Mansour reiterated that this decision was emblematic of the council saying "enough" to Israeli activity in the occupied Palestinian Territories.  

Israeli settlements in the West Bank constitute a violation of international human rights and contravene the Fourth Geneva Convention. Human Rights Watch described Israel's confiscation of land and other resources for settlements as a violation of the Hague Regulations of 1907. HRW further suggested that "business activities taking place in or in contract with Israeli settlements or settlement businesses" contribute to the violation of international human rights law and perpetuate human rights abuses.

A step forward

Sitting at her home in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, which overlooks the settlement of Halamish, human rights activist Manal Tamimi wearily explained that "while this [the resolution] is definitely a huge step forward, there is scepticism that it will truly be enforced on the ground".

Nabi Saleh is known for its political activism against the expansion of Israeli settlements. For years, the village protested against the establishment of the Halamish settlement, which was built on privately owned Palestinian lands. The protesters often met with violence from Israeli forces, resulting in the deaths of activists such as Mustafa and Rushdie Tamimi, who were both shot by Israeli forces while demonstrating in the village.

Despite her apprehension, Tamimi reiterated that the move was a positive step forward.

"Still, this is the first time in years that the US does not veto a resolution in favour of Palestine. This is important for movements such as the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions [BDS], which are being attacked across the globe.”

Meanwhile, Palestinian human rights defender and co-founder of the BDS movement, Omar Barghouti, said that by "unanimously reiterating the illegality of Israeli colonies, the UNSC decision will undoubtedly blow strong wind in the sails of the BDS movement for Palestinian freedom, justice and equality.

"Israel's growing isolation is bringing its regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid closer than ever to its South Africa moment."

Egypt's betrayal

Notwithstanding the fact that the resolution marks a new position in support of Palestinian rights, the bitterness of Egypt's withdrawal resonated among many Palestinians.

"The betrayal of Arabs to the Palestinian cause is nothing new," said Tamimi. "It is telling that the four countries which took the resolution forward are not even Arab."

In a similar fashion, 54-year-old Ramallah shop owner Abu Muhammed shared Tamimi's sense betrayal by Egypt.

"Egypt, mother of the world, your abandonment will stand as testament for your complacency in abuse," Abu Muhammed told MEE.

Palestinian lawyer and analyst Diana Butto, however, commented: "I am not someone who believes that the Arab world has a greater obligation towards Palestinians than the rest of the world; the obligations are universal and transcend boundaries." 

What next?

Palestine Legislative Council member Khalida Jarrar chose to ignore the question of Egypt's position all together.

"Regardless of whether Egypt withdrew or not, the resolution was still put forward and Egypt voted in favour," said Jarrar.

"What we must focus on now is that despite this fact there are states that support Palestinian rights, and this is where we begin building our networks and strategy without constantly focusing on superpowers like the US," she said.

While many Palestinians viewed the US abstention as a victory, Jarrar regarded it as a deceptive impression of support for the Palestinian cause. 

"The question to be asked is not whether the US abstaining is a victory or not, rather whether the US will create impediments for the implementation of this resolution or not," asked Jarrar.

At the same time, Butto described the US position as "a sign of its cowardice and failure to lead".

"The Obama administration idly sat by watching as Israel bombed Gaza, as it built more illegal settlements and demolished Palestinian homes," Butto said.

Butto highlighted that an "abstention does not erase" the fact that "this [the Obama administration] is the most pro-Israel administration in history".

Now that the resolution has passed, Palestinian discourse is dominated by fear that Israel will ignore the resolution and avoid its implementation. Many people asked if there will be any enforcement measures undertaken by the UNSC now that the resolution has passed.

"The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court [previously] defined settlements as war crimes," said Butto. "I worry about the world feeling good about itself for passing this resolution and not following it up with action."

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