For the first time in 36 years, the United Nations Security Council was able to pass a resolution that criticized Israeli settlements after President Obama’s administration broke long-standing tradition and didn’t veto the measure. The United States abstained on the resolution Friday that demands an end to Israeli settlements and calls them a “flagrant violation” of international law, which was approved 14-0 by the 15-member Council.
The White House’s decision to not veto the resolution broke a longstanding tradition of the United States as a staunch defender of Israel in the Security Council. If the lack of veto represents a shift in U.S. policy though, it’s unlikely to mean much in the near future. “As to the U.N., things will be different after Jan. 20th,” President-elect Donald Trump wrote on Twitter shortly after the resolution was approved.
The passage of the resolution culminates a period of intense lobbying by Israel and pro-Israel groups that included what amounted to Trump’s “most direct intervention on United States foreign policy during his transition to power,” notes the New York Times. Friday’s vote came a day after Egypt had withdrawn the measure due to pressure from Israel and Trump. In the end, the resolution was presented by four nations — Malaysia, New Zealand, Senegal, and Venezuela — illustrating how most of the world is opposed to Israeli settlements.
U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power tried to portray the abstention as a continuation of the Obama administration’s constant complaints about the construction of Israeli settlements, which it sees as a clear obstacle to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “Our vote today is fully in line with the bipartisan history of how American presidents have approached both the issue and the role of this body,” she said. Power said the reason why the United States did not veto the resolution as it had others before was because the building of settlements has accelerated in recent years. The settlement activity “harms the viability of a negotiated two-state outcome and erodes prospects for peace and stability in the region,” Power said.
Despite the words though, many see the abstention as a “parting shot,” as Reuters puts it, by Obama, who has not enjoyed the friendliest of relationships with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in part because of a fundamental disagreement over settlements.
Israel was quick to condemn the U.S. failure to veto the measure but struck a hopeful tone, saying things will be different once Trump moves into the White House. “It was to be expected that Israel’s greatest ally would act in accordance with the values that we share and that they would have vetoed this disgraceful resolution,” said Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations. “I have no doubt that the new U.S. administration and the incoming U.N. secretary-general will usher in a new era in terms of the U.N.’s relationship with Israel.”
The resolution doesn’t include sanctions against Israel so it doesn’t really translate into any practical effects on the ground. Still, there is plenty of symbolic value as it means the international community has now officially condemned the settlement activity and that is highly unlikely to be reversed. After all, a reversal of the resolution would require it pass the Security Council without the veto of any of its permanent members, which needless to say is a highly unlikely scenario.