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Israel-Palestine conflict: Why Palestinians are not as happy as their UN ambassador

Riyad Mansour speaks at a press conference after a UN Security Council meeting. Feb. 20, 2023 (File/AFP)
Riyad Mansour speaks at a press conference after a UN Security Council meeting. Feb. 20, 2023 (File/AFP)
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28 Feb 2023 02:02:57 GMT9
28 Feb 2023 02:02:57 GMT9

Rarely does the Palestinian ambassador to the UN make an official remark expressing happiness over any proceedings concerning the Israeli occupation of Palestine. However, Riyad Mansour was “very happy that there was a very strong united message from the Security Council against the illegal, unilateral measure” undertaken by the Israeli government.

The “measure” in this instance was the Feb. 12 decision by the far-right government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to construct 10,000 new housing units in nine illegal Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. Expectedly, Netanyahu was angered by the supposedly “very strong united message” emanating from the UN, an institution that is hardly known for its meaningful action regarding international conflicts, especially in the Palestinian-Israeli case.

Mansour’s happiness may be justified from some people’s perspective, especially as we seldom see a strongly worded statement by the UN Security Council that is both critical of Israel and wholly embraced by the US. The latter has used its veto power more than 50 times since 1972 — per UN count — to block UNSC draft resolutions critical of Israel. However, on examination of the context of the latest UN statement on Israel and Palestine, there is little reason for Mansour’s excitement. The statement in question is just that: a statement, with no tangible value and no legal repercussions.

This statement could have been meaningful if the language had remained unchanged from its original draft. Not a draft of the statement itself, but of a proposed binding resolution that was introduced by the UAE ambassador. Reuters revealed that the draft resolution would have demanded that Israel “immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.”

That resolution — and its strong language — was scrapped under pressure from the US and replaced by the statement, which merely “reiterates” the UNSC’s position that “continuing Israeli settlement activities are dangerously imperiling the viability of the two-state solution based on the 1967 lines.” The statement also expressed “deep concern” and “dismay” with Israel’s announcement.

Netanyahu’s angry response was mostly intended for public consumption in Israel and to keep his far-right government allies in check. After all, the conversion of the resolution into a statement and the watering down of the language were all carried out following an agreement among the US, Israel and the Palestinian Authority. In fact, Sunday’s Aqaba conference was confirmation of that agreement. Therefore, the UNSC statement should not have come as a surprise to the Israeli prime minister.

Decades of promises that justice will eventually arrive through US-mediated talks have culminated in nothing

Ramzy Baroud

Moreover, the US media openly reported a deal mediated by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. The reason for the deal was initially to avert a “potential crisis” that would have resulted from the US vetoing the resolution. According to the Associated Press, such a veto “would have angered Palestinian supporters at a time when the US and its Western allies are trying to gain international support against Russia.”

But there is another reason for Washington’s sense of urgency. In December 2016, then-US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice refrained from vetoing a similar UNSC resolution that strongly condemned Israel’s illegal settlement activities. This occurred less than a month before the end of Barack Obama’s second term in the White House. For Palestinians, the resolution was too little, too late. For Israel, it was an unforgivable betrayal. To appease Tel Aviv, the Trump administration gave the UN post to Nikki Haley, an ardent supporter of Israel.

Though another US veto would have raised a few eyebrows, it would have presented a major opportunity for the strong pro-Palestine camp at the UN to challenge the American hegemony over the matter of the Israeli occupation of Palestine. It would have also deferred the issue to the UN General Assembly and other UN-related organizations.

Even more interestingly, according to the Blinken-mediated agreement — as reported by AP, Reuters, Axios and others — Palestinians and Israelis will have to refrain from unilateral actions. Israel will temporarily freeze all settlement activities and Palestinians will not “pursue action against Israel at the UN and other international bodies such as the World Court, the International Criminal Court and the UN Human Rights Council.” This was the gist of the agreement at the US-sponsored Aqaba meeting.

While Palestinians are likely to abide by this understanding — since they continue to seek US financial handouts and political validation — Israel will most likely refuse. In fact, practically, it already has.

Though the agreement reportedly stipulated that Israel would not stage major attacks on Palestinian cities, only two days later, on Feb. 22, Israel raided the West Bank city of Nablus. There, it killed 11 Palestinians and wounded more than 100 others, including two elderly men and a child.

A settlement freeze is almost impossible. Netanyahu’s extremist government is mostly unified by a common understanding that settlements must be kept in a state of constant expansion. Any change to this understanding would certainly mean a collapse of one of Israel’s most stable governments in years.

Why, then, is Mansour “very happy?”

The answer stems from the fact that the PA’s credibility among Palestinians is at an all-time low. Mistrust, if not outright disdain, of Mahmoud Abbas and his PA is one of the main factors behind the brewing armed rebellion against the Israeli occupation. Decades of promises that justice will eventually arrive through US-mediated talks have culminated in nothing — thus, Palestinians are developing their own alternative resistance strategies.

The UN statement was marketed by the PA-controlled media in Palestine as a victory for Palestinian diplomacy. Thus, Mansour’s happiness. But this euphoria was short-lived.

The Israeli massacre in Nablus left no doubt that Netanyahu will not even respect a promise he made to his own benefactors in Washington. This takes us back to square one, where Israel refuses to respect international law, the US refuses to allow the international community to hold Israel accountable and the PA claims another false victory in its supposed quest for the liberation of Palestine.

Practically, this means that Palestinians are left with no other option but to carry on with their resistance, indifferent — and justifiably so — to the UN and its watered-down statements.

  • Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for more than 20 years. He is an internationally syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books, and the founder of Twitter: @RamzyBaroud
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