“Peace is hard work. Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the United Nations — if it were that easy, it would have been accomplished by now. Ultimately, it is the Israelis and the Palestinians who must live side by side. Ultimately, it is the Israelis and the Palestinians — not us — who must reach agreement on the issues that divide them: on borders and on security, on refugees and Jerusalem.”
History of the dispute
Apart from the hypocrisy, the president’s decision was also wrong, as a matter of law.
If there was ever an occupation of Palestinian territory under international law, it happened between 1948 and 1967, when two of the invading Arab armies, Jordan (West Bank) and Egypt (Gaza Strip) occupied territory that they had taken through aggressive action — the kind of aggressive action that the new Resolution explicitly reminds us is forbidden under international law.
In short; Israel was given land under a Mandate that was never repealed, two other countries attacked Israel and squatted on the land for a while, and then, when they attacked Israel again and lost, Israel regained the land she had originally been given. Israel has exclusive title and sovereignty; from an international law perspective this is not an occupation.
What everybody “knows”
How then, does every layperson ‘know’ with heartfelt surety that Israel’s ‘occupation’ is illegal under international law?
And so thankfully, aside from being wrong as a matter of law, the new Resolution is also ultimately, completely ineffectual, because despite what people might think, the resolution was merely the expression of a political opinion, and not, in any way, binding international law.
Anti-Israel bias at UN
Which is not to say that on a political level the settlement issue is at all clear-cut. It is certainly true that the areas in question are disputed territory, and that “settlements are one of the obstacles to peace” in the sense that it would be helpful for the negotiations (at least for one side) if Israel would stop.
Regardless, none of these political considerations make the legal argument(s) any different. It is important to remember that neither the UN (except in limited circumstances) nor the US make international law, and that the opinions they express about international law, and what it should be, are often simply political in nature, intended to pressure parties into conforming with a particular agenda. But the truth is that aside from being wrong and ineffectual, even from a political standpoint the U.S. allowing the Resolution to pass was likely actually harmful to the overall peace process.
These resolutions are annoying and sad — they incentivize Palestinian leadership to try and play end games around Israel instead of engaging directly with their bargaining opponent, and they leave Israel less inclined to even try.
In pulling his veto on the eve of Hanukkah President Obama failed to heed the lesson of the holiday. Historically speaking, unlike his own administration, when Israel faces illegitimate and unjust pressure to conform it does not bend. Instead it continues to shine its light as the only real democracy in the entire Middle East, with faith that its light will not be diminished but will eventually spread and grow.