The UN Security Council Paves the Way for Historic Progress

Rami G. Khouri

NEW YORK — Last week’s United Nations Security Council vote condemning Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian land as contrary to international law and an obstacle to peace, i.e., a criminal and unacceptable action, was an important, even historic, vote, for many reasons, and with many consequences. It transformed a long-held global consensus against Israel’s settlement-criminality into a functional legal foundation on which the world can decide to take further actions.
Condemning Zionist colonies and settlements on stolen Arab land has been the clear position of virtually all the countries of the world, including the United States, for decades. Giving this position the force of law via a UN Security Council resolution is new and meaningful. It allows Palestinians and people across the entire world who oppose Zionism’s expansionist enterprise to take further practical, political, peaceful, and legitimate actions to stop this criminal behavior — in the same way that the world acted politically to counter South African Apartheid or terrorism today.
Palestinians committed to a negotiated peace with Israel — a disillusioned majority — can now explore mass political mobilization on a global level that would exert pressure on Israel to stop and then reverse the settlements process. Israel’s hysterical and arrogant response to the UN resolution — parroted by its increasingly isolated political agents and proxies in the American political system — are so extreme that we should not expect sanctions, boycotts, and other unilateral actions against Israel to move us towards a permanent negotiated peace agreement.
The absolute support in the United States and globally for the basic security of Israel within its pre-June 1967 borders gives Israel the option to oppose any move against it by claiming that the existence of Jews themselves is being threatened by hostile actions against the “Jewish state.” Yet the importance of the UN resolution is precisely that it clarifies, and anchors in law, the explicit distinction between the inviolability of the Israeli state within its pre-1967 land, and the corrosive, criminal actions of that state in expanding its territorial base and its Apartheid-like controls of Palestinians in the occupied territories.
Palestinians and other peace-loving people must now pursue much more serious diplomatic initiatives for a permanent, comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace agreement than has been the case in the past 50 years. The UN resolution provides that public and legal space in which to shape political actions by states and popular mobilizations that reaffirm support for the pre-1967 state of Israel, but reject and vow to fight vigorously and reverse the colonization legacy of the settlements enterprise.
The deeper significant factor here is that popular sentiments in the United States and other Western countries now increasingly favor a balanced approach to Israeli-Palestinian rights, and reject — often with clear majorities — the worn-out Zionist and Israeli arguments in defense of their colonial and racist-like policies on the Palestinians. American Jews in particular are sensitive to the need for a firm but balanced approach to resolving the Palestine-Israel and wider Arab-Israeli conflicts; this is both for their focus on justice as a central Jewish ethic, and because Israel’s continued defiance of the global consensus on Palestinian rights will only stoke new waves of anti-Semitism that will hurt Jews around the world.
Political, diplomatic, and legal actions against Israeli colonization will now slowly escalate around the world. This will continue the dominant international trend of the past decade that has seen churches, labor unions, student groups, professional associations, commercial companies, and some governments restrict their dealings with Israeli entities that are directly linked to settlements. Many Israeli leaders and their equally wild American political parrots will scream about new Nazis and reinvigorated anti-Semitism by people who hate Jews only because they’re Jews; the world will respond calmly that it wants to protect the state of Israel that was created as a homeland for the Jews who wish to live there, but it also wants to end the illegal, intolerable colonization of Arab lands that is an enduring and active remnant of 19th Century European colonialism.
The legal base for political action that the UN resolution offers is matched in importance by the resolution’s signal that Zionist huffing and puffing, including threats and reprimands, are no longer credible anywhere in the world — except for a small, narrowing, and steadily discredited circle of Washington institutes, congressmen and women, and political extremists who stand outside the explicit global consensus.
It is important now to shift the center of gravity of current actions and reactions — away from more hysteria and curses, and towards constructive diplomacy that would penetrate the key underlying issue that remains at the core of this conflict: how Palestinians and Israelis can share the land they both covet, with equal and simultaneous national rights for both.
I sure hope that clever and sincere mediators in the Middle East and abroad are quietly working to craft a new diplomatic initiative that would allow this historic moment to propel us all onto a path that addresses the legitimate rights and needs of Palestinians and Israelis, on the foundation of international law and morality that the UN Security Council has just reaffirmed. Zionist hysteria, unanchored Palestinian pleas for justice, and many decades of American-Israeli-defined fantasy diplomacy will achieve nothing, as the past 50 years have shown. Seeking security, statehood, and justice for all concerned peoples in this conflict must not repeat the mistakes of the past once again. The UN Security Council was the first to signal that we needed to break with the serial failures of recent legacies. Others should follow in the same spirit of courage, law-anchored precision, and a profound moral and political commitment to the equal rights of all the parties involved. That would be a fitting end to those nagging colonial practices, including colonies and settlements, which have haunted and ravaged us since the 1890s.
Rami G. Khouri
is a senior fellow at the American University of Beirut and the Harvard Kennedy School, and can be followed on Twitter @ramikhouri
Copyright ©2016 Rami G. Khouri
— distributed by Agence Global