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Opinion: Criticizing Israel - a bottomless pit of motives

Kersten Knipp
Kersten Knipp
December 28, 2016

The UN Security Council Resolution on Israeli settlements is questionable, says Kersten Knipp. The list of signatories raises doubts about stated motives.

Symbolbild UN sicherheitsrat berät sich zu Syrien
Image: picture-alliance/Photoshot

Five days after the UN Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 2334 condemning Israel's settlement building policy, people in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv continue to analyze how it came about: How could it be that, for the first time since 1979, the Security Council could have voted to pass a resolution denouncing Israeli settlement policy and at the same time ordering a stop to all future settlement activity on the West Bank and East Jerusalem? The resolution states that such activity has no legal basis and endangers the implementation of a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians.

"Absent this acceleration of settlement activity, absent the type of rhetoric we've seen out of the current Israeli government, I think the United States likely would have taken a different view," explained US Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes.

In general, debate over the resolution is being conducted with an unusual amount of self-criticism in Israel. The left-wing liberal newspaper "Haaretz" wrote that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was dragging Israel into the abyss with his policies. Jerusalem's city administration reacted to the resolution by postponing a scheduled vote on hundreds of settlers' apartments in Palestinian East Jerusalem, and news agencies have reported that the vote was postponed at Netanyahu's insistence.

Settling the settlement issue

Israeli settlement policy is a problem. Its legal basis is disputed: Israel says there is one, the UN sees things differently. Anyone that travels through the West Bank comes away with a lasting impression of just what Israel's policy means for Palestinians. It is obvious that this policy cannot continue. And one need not see fundamentalist Jewish settlers, or fundamentalist members of Hamas or Fatah, as likable representatives of their respective states.

Deutsche Welle Kersten Knipp
DW's Kersten KnippImage: DW/P. Henriksen

Nevertheless, a look at the list of the resolution's signatories causes some irritation. The resolution was put forth by Egypt, of all countries (though Cairo later withdrew it): A country that has made a name for itself by committing significant human rights violations over the years; a country that jails members of the political opposition, journalists and many others, and that has handed down death sentences in mass trials.

According to Amnesty International, other signatories pursue comparably questionable policies: Venezuela, under President Nicolas Maduro, has dealt with political opponents in similarly robust fashion; Senegal's government sees no problem with limiting the right to peaceful assembly or arresting people because of their sexual orientation; Malaysia has put massive pressure on freedom of speech as well as other civil and political rights.

The indignation of some permanent members of the Security Council came as a surprise as well - for instance that of Russia and China. When it comes to abusing human rights, both can be relied on. Russia has been bombing Syrian civilians for months. Most of those civilians are Sunnis, members of the same religious denomination that Moscow now claims it is seeking to protect in Palestine.

Bordering on anti-Semitism

With such advocates, it seems that, at the very least, the Security Council resolution has a credibility problem. More so still in light of the fact that this October another UN organization, UNESCO, indirectly declared the Temple Mount in East Jerusalem to be an exclusively Muslim site.

In the corresponding paper on the subject, the site was simply referred to as "Al-Aqsa Mosque and Haram Al-Sharif and the surrounding area." That also means the Wailing Wall, where hundreds of Jews pray each day. An attempt to justify only Muslim rights here borders on anti-Semitism - if not that the boundary was not already crossed.

The situation wasn't made any better by the fact that the resolution was put forth by exclusively Arab countries - among them Algeria, Lebanon, Sudan, and Egypt, the first three of which have yet to formally recognize Israel as a sovereign state.

Criticism of Israel's settlement policy is legitimate. As long as such criticism is clearly free of anti-Semitism and other dishonest motives - such as distracting from one's own domestic policies or simply out of spite. It is only believable and acceptable if those voicing criticism distance themselves from states that are obviously pursuing goals that are utterly different than those they profess in public. It is clear that not all who seem to be calling for the same thing are truly kindred spirits. Thus, a word of warning: Choose your partners carefully.

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