UN Resolution on Israeli Settlements Triggers a Firestorm

The abstention of the United States in the UN Security Council vote on Resolution 2334 triggered a firestorm of criticism toward the Obama Administration. The Administration claimed that it did not reflect any policy change and only reiterated long-standing U.S. opposition to Israeli settlement expansion. Critics maintained that the resolution broke new ground harmful to Israel and hurt the cause of peace. Many saw the U.S. abstention on this UN Security Council vote as an act of outright hostility toward Israel. Several organizations strongly supportive of a two state solution condemned Resolution 2334, along with 109 members of the House of Representatives from President Obama’s own party.

We at Presbyterians for Middle East Peace recognize Israeli settlement expansion deep in the West Bank as a major impediment to peace, just as Palestinian factions that remain committed to Israel’s destruction are a huge impediment. We believe that the two state solution, two states for two peoples, continues to represent the best path to sustainable peace, and we are grateful that the last Presbyterian General Assembly twice approved statements expressing its continuing support of the two state solution. We believe that both parties have essential obligations that neither can ignore. Finally, we believe that any peace agreement must be directly negotiated by the parties. Both parties must have a strong political commitment to peace, built upon a foundation of grassroots support from both peoples. For these reasons, we think UN Resolution 2334 creates significant, perhaps insurmountable new barriers to peace and believe the UN’s approval of and the U.S. abstention on this resolution was wrong.

There are three principal reasons for the controversy. The first is the argument that Resolution 2334 works against the principle of “land for peace.” For decades the peace process has been built upon a foundation with two obligations: the obligation of Israel to cede control of land for a Palestinian state, and the obligation of Palestinians to support Israel’s right to exist and make a concrete commitment to Israel’s security in the future. With the UN resolution describing the West Bank as “occupied territory” belonging only to Palestinians, regardless of any Palestinian commitment to peace, a key understanding about the nature of the disputed territories as reflected in UN Resolution 242, an understanding that has been in place for decades, has now been lost.


Second, the United States has long held the position that an end to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict can only come from negotiation between the parties and not forced upon them by outside parties. Critics argue that UN Resolution 2334, and the upcoming Paris conference, are in fact attempts by outside parties to impose a solution, a sharp departure from long-established policy.

The third point of controversy is the manner in which Resolution 2334 treats Jerusalem. By using the term “Illegally occupied territory” and defining it as all land east of the 1948 truce line, land which was under Jordanian control from 1948 to 1967, much of Jerusalem, including the Western Wall and the Old City would be treated as “illegally occupied territory.” Prior to the Jordanian takeover in 1948, Jews represented a majority in the Old City and Jerusalem neighborhoods in what is now called “East Jerusalem” (there were 58 synagogues in “East Jerusalem” along with a 3,000 year-old Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives). The Jews residing there were forcibly evicted by the Jordanians in 1948. When Israel gained control of these areas in 1967 many Israelis saw it as a liberation and a return to their homes, not an “occupation”. Jerusalem is a complex issue to say the least. For competing views on this topic read the Wikipedia entry on East Jerusalem along with a counterpoint discussion from a pro-Israel organization.