The controversial new UN resolution on Israel, explained in under 600 words


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the Obama administration secretly “colluded” with Jerusalem’s adversaries on a United Nations Security Council resolution criticizing Israeli settlements. For good measure, Netanyahu has also likened Obama to former US President Jimmy Carter, whom he pointedly derided as “hostile” to Israel.

The Obama administration denies any such collusion, saying that the resolution merely “reflects the facts on the ground” and that’s why it did not veto it.

With the two governments continuing to trade blows, the fight over the resolution has gotten ugly fast. Understanding why requires first understanding what the measure does — and, just as importantly, what it doesn’t do.

The resolution, one of the harshest the UN has ever passed during the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict, demands that Israel “immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem,” and declares that the establishment of settlements by Israel has “no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law.”

That’s stronger language than the United States has ever officially used to describe Israeli settlement activity before. Although the standard US position has for three decades been that such settlements are “obstacles to peace,” the United States has always stopped short of describing them as “illegal” under international law.

Palestinian leaders are already saying that they’ll use the resolution to seek International Criminal Court indictments of Israeli leaders, push for a formal probe into whether Israel is violating the Geneva Conventions, and get foreign governments to ban the import of any products made in Israeli settlements.

It’s important to pause here for a second and note that the resolution itself doesn’t do any of those things.

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