Obama Belatedly Says No to Israel

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Exclusive: If President Obama had confronted Israel over its illegal settlements earlier, he might have really achieved something, but his U.N. abstention as he heads out the door is better than nothing, observes Marjorie Cohn.

By Marjorie Cohn

For the first time in his eight-year presidency, Barack Obama said no to Israel. When the Security Council voted to condemn Israel for building illegal settlements in occupied Palestinian territories, the Obama administration abstained, allowing the resolution to pass.

President Barack Obama addresses the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 20, 2016. (UN Photo)

Resolution 2334 says the settlements have “no legal validity,” calls them “a flagrant violation under international law,” and demands Israel “immediately and completely cease all settlement activities.”

Although 2334 is consistent with prior resolutions of the council, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threw a tantrum, calling the US abstention a “declaration of war.” In light of Obama’s unwavering enabling of Israel’s illegal policies, Netanyahu was likely shocked that Obama finally said no.

The United States, a permanent member of the council, vetoed a resolution in 2011 that would have condemned the building of Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territories. And in 2014, the U.S. opposed a draft resolution demanding Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank within three years.

Since 1967, Israel has transferred more than a half million of its own citizens into Palestinian territories, continuing to build settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

In 2004, the International Court of Justice affirmed that the Palestinian territories are under Israeli occupation and Israel’s settlement building violates the Fourth Geneva Convention.

A state occupying territory not its own cannot build settlements on that territory and transfer its own citizens into them. Article 8.2(b)(viii) of the Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court (ICC) defines “the transfer, directly or indirectly, by the Occupying Power of parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies” as a war crime.

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