Since the 6-Day War in 1967, Israel has maintained its military occupation of the West Bank.
The West Bank constitutes the largest portion of the territory allocated to Palestine under the 1947 UN Partition plan. Since Israel began its military occupation in the West Bank, a vast Israeli settlement enterprise has taken root. Approximately 400,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank today, and they are spread over 130 distinct settlements. The settlements effectively create a system of oppression and segregation – a system often analogized to the apartheid regime that governed South Africa. Many restrictions are placed on Palestinians, among which include housing and property rights. As Palestinians vie for recognition of its statehood and sovereign rights, the Israeli occupation and settlements pose an insurmountable barrier for them.
The United Nations Security Council voted on Resolution 2334 in late December. The Resolution condemns Israel’s actions aimed at changing the demographic composition of the Palestinian Territory it has occupied since 1967. With a 14-0 vote (United States abstaining), the Security Council adopted Resolution 2334 under Chapter VI of the United Nations Charter. Chapter VI authorizes the Security Council to issue recommendations to states regarding disputes. The U.S. veto power as a member of the Security Council allows it to strike down any resolution presented in the Security Council. Rather than using this power to prevent condemnation of Israel’s actions, the United States abstained from the vote.
The U.S. abstention led to widespread criticism by the anti-Resolution front. Those who oppose the move claim the Resolution harms peace negotiations because it deters from direct, bilateral negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis. However, those who supported the move characterize the Resolution’s adoption as a step towards the creation of a Palestinian state. Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, claimed this act showed strong support for the two-state solution. U.S. leaders including former U.S. ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, explained the U.S. abstention from the vote. She focused on Israel’s interests when she claimed the Israeli settlements undermine Israeli security. Former Secretary of State, John Kerry, gave a speech criticizing Israel’s expanding settlement practices since the Oslo Accords of 1993 and 1995 – peace agreements arising from bilateral negotiations between Palestinian and Israeli leaders.
Israeli settlements on Palestinian territory violate the Fourth Geneva Convention. Article Two states that the Convention applies to cases of occupied territories, even if the occupation does not meet with resistance. Article Forty-Nine of the Fourth Geneva Convention regards the protection of civilians during a time of war. Paragraphs One and Six of Article Forty-Nine prohibit the forcible removal of people from occupied territories and the transfer of the occupying power’s civilians into occupied territories. During 2016, Israeli officials seized 1,089 Palestinian owned structures in the West Bank and East Jerusalem displacing 1,593 Palestinians. Article Fifty-Three of the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits the destruction of real or personal property belonging to an individual or collectively to private persons. In the West Bank, Israel displaces Palestinians by demolishing their homes as a form of punishment or to expropriate the land to build new settlements. In the first week of 2017, Israel demolished the homes of 151 Palestinians in the West Bank.
Ultimately, the implications of the Security Council Resolution are uncertain. The Resolution, adopted under Chapter VI of the UN Charter, is not binding on any state, so it acts as a recommendation to Israel. In the months since Resolution 2334 passed, Israel has not shown signs of deference to it. Israel announced plans to build approximately 6,000 new settlement homes, and Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, legalized Jewish settlements built on Palestinian land. With continued settlement in the occupied territories, the prospect of reaching a peaceful agreement remains remote. The Security Council members have the option to pass a binding Resolution mandating economic pressure on Israel to halt settlement growth. This proved to be effective in the case of South Africa when the Security Council adopted Resolution 418, placing an arms embargo on the government to dismantle the system of apartheid. Such an act would require significant political pressure on all members of the Council, and does not seem likely to occur in the near future.