A majority of Democratic lawmakers in the House joined hands with virtually all congressional Republicans to vote for a bill condemning a United Nations Security Council resolution that reaffirms the illegality of Israel’s settlements on occupied Palestinian land. By rejecting the UN resolution, the House Democrats rebuked the leader of their party, President Barack Obama, whose administration registered a rare abstention vote on the measure, triggering a tantrum from the far-right government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
In the vote on Thursday, January 5, a large majority of 342 lawmakers supported the anti-UN bill, with just 80 opposing. Nearly the entire Republican contingent of the House, 233 representatives, voted for the legislation, with a mere four voting against. On the other side, 109 Democrats supported it, with 76 opposing.
Key leaders in the Democratic Party voted for the anti-UN bill. The party’s former leader, Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, supported it. Wasserman Schultz, a long-time ally of Hillary Clinton who served as the chair of the Democratic National Committee, was pressured to step down when leaked emails exposed how the DNC, under her leadership, worked to undermine the campaign of Bernie Sanders.
Even self-described progressive members of the party, such as Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin — who dubbed himself an “effective progressive” and was described by The Washington Post as the “most liberal congressional candidate in a crowded field” — voted for the anti-UN bill.
Likewise, Rep. Ted Lieu, a progressive Democrat from Los Angeles who has been perhaps the most outspoken critic of US support for the brutal war in Yemen, joined the Republicans in supporting the pro-Israel legislation.
Some Democrats stood with the international community in support of the UN resolution. Keith Ellison, a progressive Democrat from Minnesota, voted against the bill, because he claimed it undermines the work toward a two-state solution in Israel-Palestine. Ellison, who is running to be the next chair of the DNC, has endured harsh attacks from pro-Israel groups. In the past, Ellison criticized Israel and hinted that it is an apartheid state, although he has greatly weakened his criticisms in recent weeks.
Voting to condemn international law
The bill, H. Res. 11, attacks UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which it claims is as “an obstacle to Israeli-Palestinian peace” and is “biased against Israel.”
UN Security Council Resolution 2334 simply restates a longstanding international legal consensus: Israel’s construction of settlements on Palestinian land it has illegally occupied since 1967 “has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-State solution and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace.”
The resolution was passed on December 23 with unanimous support from the international community. Every member of the Security Council except for the US voted for the resolution, including the UK, China, Japan, France, Spain, Angola, Russia, Ukraine, and more.
Just seven US lawmakers did not vote for the House bill. At least one, Florida Democrat Charlie Crist, emphasized that he opposed the UN resolution, but released a statement saying he had not been able to make it to the floor for the vote.
For decades, the US has regularly vetoed UN resolutions that are critical of the Israeli government’s violations of international law. H. Res. 11 in fact boasts of numerous US vetoes of such Security Council resolutions.
The Obama administration, however, decided to abstain in the vote on Security Council Resolution 2334. Pro-Israel groups have blasted the administration for taking such a step, and lobbied for Congress to condemn the UN resolution.
An uncontroversial measure
Despite the harsh backlash, the Obama administration’s abstention was by no means unprecedented. In fact, it is historically remarkably uncontroversial — as is Security Council Resolution 2334, which simply reiterated what past Security Council resolutions have long established.
In 1979, the US again abstained on Security Council Resolution 446, which stated clearly that Israeli settlements established on occupied Palestinian land “have no legal validity and constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East.”
The text of the H. Res. 11 boasts of staunch, longstanding US support for Israel and “decades of bipartisan agreement.” It condemns UN resolutions that are supported by the entire international community as “one-sided” and insists that only the US has the right to facilitate negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
The House bill also highlights the historic, $38 billion aid package the Obama administration signed with Israel — the largest military aid package in US history — and reaffirms the “United States commitment toward Israel’s qualitative military edge.”
More than 600,000 Israelis live in illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and that number continues to grow. Settlements have expanded under every US president, Democratic and Republican alike — although Republican presidents have often presented more opposition.
The Obama administration did very little to stop Israel’s expansion of settlements. Illegal settlements grew just as fast, if not faster, under Obama than they did under President George W. Bush.
Israel’s segregated settlements are in direct violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, one of the four treaties adopted after World War II that established the basis of modern international law. Article 49 of the convention expressly forbids the transfer of the civilian population of an occupying power onto the land of an occupied people.