How can a state that is so opposed to all legally binding resolutions of the UNSC engage on questions of the law?
The UN Security Council has voted in favour of a resolution demanding the halt of settlement activity by Israel on occupied Palestinian territory with the United States notably abstaining.
The resolution was put forward at the 15-member council for a vote on Friday by New Zealand, Malaysia, Venezuela and Senegal, a day after Egypt withdrew it under pressure from Israel and US president-elect Donald Trump.
Israel and Trump had called on the US to veto the measure.
“This is a day of victory for international law, a victory for civilised language and negotiation and a total rejection of extremist forces in Israel,” chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told Reuters news agency.
“The international community has told the people of Israel that the way to security and peace is not going to be done through occupation … but rather through peace, ending the occupation and establishing a Palestinian state to live side by side with the state of Israel on the 1967 line,” Erekat said.
The resolution was adopted with 14 votes in favour to a resounding round of applause. It is the first resolution the Security Council has adopted on Israel and the Palestinians in nearly eight years.
“Israel rejects this shameful anti-Israel resolution at the UN and will not abide by its terms,” a statement from the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.
The United States’ abstention was the biggest rebuke in recent history to long-standing ally Israel, allowing the Security Council to condemn its settlements and continuing construction in Palestinian territory as a “flagrant violation” of international law.
The resolution said Israel’s settlements on Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, have “no legal validity.”
It demanded a halt to “all Israeli settlement activities”, saying this “is essential for salvaging the two-state solution”.
Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi had backtracked on the move to condemn Israel’s settlement policy on Thursday after receiving a phone call from US president-elect Donald Trump, who spoke out in favour of a US veto.
Israeli ambassador to the UN Danny Danon said his government had expected a US veto of “this disgraceful resolution”.
“I have no doubt that the new US administration and the incoming UN secretary-general will usher in a new era in terms of the UN’s relationship with Israel,” said Danon after the vote.
Trump said in a tweet: “As to the UN, things will be different after Jan 20th.”
Trump is likely to be a more staunch supporter of Netanyahu’s right-wing policies. He named a hardline, pro-settlement ambassador to Israel and vowed to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Israeli settlements are seen as a major stumbling block to peace efforts as they are built on land the Palestinians see as part of their future state.
The United Nations maintains that settlements are illegal, but UN officials have reported a surge in construction over the past months.
Yuval Steinitz, Israeli energy minister, accused the US of abandoning Israel by abstaining.
“This is not a resolution against settlements, it is an anti-Israel resolution, against the Jewish people and the state of the Jews. The United States tonight has simply abandoned its only friend in the Middle East,” Steinitz, who is close to Netanyahu, told Channel Two News.
Some 430,000 Israeli settlers currently live in the West Bank and a further 200,000 Israelis live in occupied East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians see as the capital of their future state.
The passage of the resolution changes nothing on the ground between Israel and the Palestinians, and likely will be all but ignored by the incoming Trump administration.
But it was more than merely symbolic.
The resolution formally enshrined the international community’s disapproval of Israeli settlement building and could spur further Palestinian moves against Israel in international forums.
Sharif Nashashibi, a London-based analyst of Arab political affairs, told Al Jazeera he feared the vote will be just one of many UN resolutions that Israel will flout.
“We don’t have any mechanism to put tangible pressure on Israel to abide by this resolution, so I fear that despite the passing of this resolution, the Security Council has still proved itself largely irrelevant to this conflict,” Nashashibi said.
Before the vote, a senior Israeli official said if adopted there was “zero chance” the Israeli government would abide by the measure. Under the UN Charter, UN member states “agree to accept and carry out the decisions of the Security Council”.