Divided over how to continue Israel’s occupation

A dispute over illegal settlements in occupied Palestinian territory has exposed tensions between the US and Israel. In early January, outgoing Secretary of State John Kerry delivered the most critical speech about Israel ever given by a US government official. He argued that the continued settlement building and land grabs are motivated by “ideological imperatives” and threaten the future of a two state solution.

The row follows a resolution passed by the UN Security Council in December demanding a halt to settlement construction. The resolution reiterated that Israel’s settlement building in Palestinian territory was a “flagrant violation” of international law.

In a surprising move, the US refused to veto the resolution and abstained from the vote.

The Israeli government furiously condemned the decision, telling New Zealand, which co-sponsored the motion, it was tantamount to a “declaration of war”. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called the US’s decision to abstain “shameful” and has accused Obama of “colluding” with the UN against Israel.

Disgracefully, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop hinted Australia would not have voted for the resolution if it were on the council, declaring that it does not support “one-sided resolutions targeting Israel”.

Bishop is keen to maintain good relations with the Zionist state. She has invited Netanyahu to visit Australia in the new year and he would become the first Israeli prime minister to do so.

The US and Israel

The US normally uses its veto at the UN to protect Israel, as it did in 2011 when a similar motion was tabled. For the past two decades the US has supported a “peace process” with the aim of a two-state solution in historic Palestine.

This would allegedly see a state of Palestine set up in the West Bank and the Gaza strip with a capital in East Jerusalem, effectively surrounded by Israel. It would mean giving up the rights of millions of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes after Israel’s creation in 1948 brought widespread ethnic cleansing. And Israel itself would continue to be an apartheid state with a Palestinian minority, who make up 20 per cent its population, continuing to face discrimination.

The promise of a two-state solution has been used to co-opt the Palestinian Authority (PA), led by Fatah, into policing Palestinian resistance. But the PA’s failure to challenge Israel and its “security coordination” with occupying Israeli forces are making it increasingly unpopular. The continual attacks on Palestinians are fuelling discontent and unrest in the Palestinian territories.

Growing tensions

But it is becoming impossible to pretend that there is even a fig leaf of a peace process underway in historic Palestine. The Israeli state has accelerated settlement building on the land nominally set aside for a future Palestinian state, and now refuses to even negotiate with the PA.

Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party, which thrives on anti-Arab racism and attacking Palestinians, leads the coalition government. It won the Israeli elections in 2015 after promising to expand settlements in East Jerusalem. Its main coalition partner, the far right Jewish Home party, demands full annexation of the West Bank.

Meanwhile Israel routinely refuses Palestinians permission to build their own homes in the occupied West Bank. More than 1500 Palestinians were made homeless by demolitions last year—the highest number since the UN started recording demolitions in 2009.

There has been tension between the Obama administration and Netanyahu since Obama took office in 2008 over the question of settlements.

Israel is a key US ally in the Middle East and a number of US politicians are concerned Israel’s actions threaten the long-term stability of the occupation and threaten to further isolate it internationally.

Kerry argued that the US’s decision to abstain was “about preserving the two-state solution”. In a period of massive political and military conflict throughout the region, the US are desperate to maintain Israel as their “watchdog” state—and in this instance it has meant pulling at the leash.

Donald Trump condemned the Obama administration’s decision not to veto, saying it had treated Israel with “disdain and disrespect”.

Netanyahu has made clear that he is looking forward to working with a highly sympathetic Trump government. Trump’s support will likely encourage the Israeli government to continue with its brutal expansionist policies and attacks on Palestinians. He has declared he will move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, despite its status still being disputed under international law.

With the possibility of a two state solution disappearing, it is becoming increasingly clear that a single democratic, secular state encompassing all of historic Palestine is what is needed.

By Caitlin Doyle

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