How Palestinians Pushed for the UN to Vote on Settlements

Palestinians understood that if the resolution was not put to the vote before the week's end, there was little chance it would happen before Trump takes office.

Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury
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Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas at the UN on October 28, 2015.
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas at the UN on October 28, 2015.Credit: AP
Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury

Egypt's decision Thursday to postpone the United Nations Security Council vote on the anti-settlements resolution it had tabled only a day beforehand sent shock waves through Ramallah, the de facto Palestinian capital in the West Bank. The subsequent 24 hours that passed until the vote on Friday night were among the tensest the Palestinian Authority's leadership knew in recent years. But the Palestinian delegation to the UN had clear instructions: push for a vote at any cost.

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According to Palestinian officials familiar with the details of events, after the initial shock over Egypt’s action, instructions were issued by both Palestinian President Abbas’ bureau and the PA Foreign Ministry to the PA delegation in New York to bring the resolution to a vote no matter what. It was understood that if the resolution was not passed before January 20, when U.S. President-elect Donald Trump takes office, it would be a lost cause.

Efforts began with an urgent meeting of the UN ambassadors from the Arab countries and a meeting of the foreign ministers of Egypt, Jordan and the PA with the secretary general of the Arab League in Cairo. The Egyptians insisted on postponing the vote, saying that it needed to re-coordinate, while the Arab League delegation recommended moving the vote forward on that same weekend.

A senior Arab official who spoke with Haaretz said that there was a clear sense at UN headquarters that the resolution was to pass.

Amr Abdel Latif Aboulatta, Permanent Representative of Egypt to the UN, votes in favor during the December 23, 2016, vote on Israeli settlements. Credit: EVAN SCHNEIDER/AFP

Read more on the Security Council resolution: It's the settlements, stupid: UN failure is entirely Netanyahu's / Analysis | Obama, where have you been for 8 wasted years? / Analysis | Why the Palestinians are jubilant and Israel is spooked / Analysis | Security Council punch knocks Netanyahu down from hubris to humiliation

No agreement was reached in Cairo, but urgent meetings were held at UN headquarters on Thursday afternoon with representatives of New Zealand, Senegal, Venezuela and Malaysia. The pleasant surprise for the Palestinians was that all four countries agreed to put the same resolution to a vote.

“There was sweeping support, and that from our perspective was a very important step because if one of the countries would have proposed a change in the wording we would have had a problem,” the official said.

The Palestinian delegation reported to Ramallah late Thursday night that the resolution would be put to a vote on Friday night Israel time, and would probably pass although there was concern over last-minute pressure, especially on the U.S. or another country.

The Muqata in Ramallah called the vote a real Christmas present for the Palestinian people and a message that the world had conveyed to Israel. Abbas’ spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, said the vote was a resounding slap in the face to Israel and full international condemnation of the settlements.

The PA’s designated new ambassador in Washington and Abbas’ strategic advisor, Dr. Husam Zomlot, told Haaretz that the resolution conveyed to Israel that it could not continue its policy toward the Palestinians in terms of settlements and settler aggression. The Palestinians would use the resolution in international forums including the International Court in The Hague, Zomlot said.

The Arab umbrella

Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas issued instructions to all senior Palestinian leaders not to criticize Egypt or its president, Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi, for withdrawing its draft resolution on Israeli settlements Thursday, especially since the resolution was in the end adopted by the Security Council.

“Ties with Egypt are very important by any standard and we want to be careful. What happened at the end of the week requires the Palestinian leadership to make decisions on its conduct vis-à-vis the international community,” a senior official close to Abbas said.

However, Haaretz has learned that the PA intends to reexamine its relationship with the Arab League in terms of the PA’s independent decision-making in the international arena.

According to senior Palestine Liberation Organization Executive Committee officials, in recent years any proposals the Palestinians wanted to submit to the UN Security Council or any actions in the international arena had to go through the Arab Monitoring Committee, which included Egypt, Jordan and Morocco, as well as the PA, and Abbas always spoke of what he called the “Arab umbrella.”

However, the foot-dragging of the past two years, stemming from international pressures or the interests of those countries, clearly shown by Egypt’s decision to pull its draft resolution, require the PA to reconsider Palestinian policies.

“This does not mean we are giving up Arab support, but this week showed that there is also an international umbrella and allies throughout the world, and that is very important for independent Palestinian decision-making,” an official said.

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