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U.N. Declares Israeli Settlements Illegal; Netanyahu Vows to Retaliate After U.S. Abstains from Vote

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Israeli officials are vowing to build thousands of new settlement homes on occupied Palestinian land, in defiance of a United Nations resolution passed Friday condemning such construction as a “flagrant violation under international law.” The Security Council vote was 14-0. The United States abstained, denying a veto sought by Israel and President-elect Donald Trump. It is the first resolution the Security Council has adopted on Israel and the Palestinians in nearly eight years. We speak to Yousef Munayyer, executive director of US Campaign for Palestinian Rights.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Israeli officials are vowing to build thousands of new settlement homes on occupied Palestinian land, in defiance of a United Nations resolution passed Friday condemning such construction as a, quote, “flagrant violation under international law,” unquote. Jerusalem’s municipal government says it will approve construction of another 600 homes in Jewish-only settlements as part of a project to add another 5,600 housing units in the city’s east, which was captured by Israel in a 1967 war. The plans violate Security Council Resolution 2334, which was approved Friday on a 14-to-0 vote after the U.S. abstained, denying a veto sought by Israel and President-elect Donald Trump. Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat welcomed passage of the resolution.

SAEB EREKAT: This is a day of hope, a day of peace. This is a victory for those who believe in peace, who believe in the two-state solution. And this is a total defeat for those forces of extremism in Israel who believe in destroying the two-state solution and achieving and sustaining the apartheid regime that they are building in the West Bank. We hope that this clear message to the Israeli people is that they must accept the international community’s call to stop settlement activities, to stop the occupation. Occupation and settlements provide no peace and no security. And the only way to peace and security for Israelis and Palestinians is through a negotiated settlement to achieve the two-state solution on the 1967 lines––a state of Palestine, with East Jerusalem as its capital, to live side by side the state of Israel in peace and security on the 1967 lines.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s the first resolution the U.N. Security Council has adopted on Israel and the Palestinians in nearly eight years. This is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: Over decades, the American administrations and Israeli governments have disagreed about settlements. But we agreed that the Security Council was not the place to resolve this issue. We knew that going there would make negotiation’s harder and drive peace further away. And as I told John Kerry on Thursday, friends don’t take friends to the Security Council. I’m encouraged by the statements of our friends in the United States, Republicans and Democrats alike. They understand how reckless and destructive this U.N. resolution was. They understand that the Western Wall isn’t occupied territory. I look forward to working with those friends and with the new administration when it takes office next month.

AMY GOODMAN: Yousef Munayyer is the executive director of US Campaign for Palestinian Rights.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Yousef. How unusual is what happened on Friday, the passage of this resolution critical of Israel?

YOUSEF MUNAYYER: Well, it’s good to be with you. It’s not exactly unusual. We have seen tremendous agreement in the international community on the illegality of the Israeli settlement enterprise. And there is a lot of international agreement, of course, that the Fourth Geneva Conventions apply to the territory that Israel occupied after 1967, which make the transfer of civilians into occupied territory illegal in international law. We have seen that fact affirmed in United Nations Security Council resolutions for years since 1967 under various American administrations that either voted for similar resolutions or abstained on similar resolutions. The only president since 1967 who, prior to this week, had not done something like that was actually Barack Obama.

AMY GOODMAN: So, when we say “in the last eight years,” that’s true, because that was Barack Obama’s two terms.

YOUSEF MUNAYYER: Absolutely. You know, the only veto that President Obama had ever used in the United Nations Security Council was used to protect Israel from a resolution that was criticizing its settlement enterprise. So I think any objective comparative analysis of U.S. presidents since 1967 has to conclude that there has been no president that’s done more to protect Israel before the international community than Barack Obama. And, you know, when you consider the fact that Ronald Reagan allowed 21 different United Nations Security Council resolutions critical of Israel, including criticizing the bombings of Beirut and the siege of Beirut throughout the 1980s, and Barack Obama had various opportunities during the sieges of Gaza and the bombardments of Gaza that took place under his watch to do so and didn’t, you know, these accusations against President Obama somehow being uniquely anti-Israel really raise questions about whether or not those accusations are not about something else that is unique about President Obama.

AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s turn to Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., who invoked Ronald Reagan when she spoke out explaining why the U.S. would abstain from this vote.

SAMANTHA POWER: Let me begin with a quote: “The United States will not support the use of any additional land for the purpose of settlements during the transitional period. Indeed, the immediate adoption of a settlement freeze by Israel, more than any other action, could create the confidence needed for wider participation in these talks. Further settlement activity is in no way necessary for the security of Israel and only diminishes the confidence of the Arabs that a final outcome can be freely and fairly negotiated.” That’s the end of the quote. This was said in 1982 by President Ronald Reagan. He was speaking about a new proposal that he was launching to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

While ultimately, of course, President Reagan’s proposal was not realized, his words are still illuminating in at least two respects. First, because they underscore the United States’s deep and long-standing commitment to achieving a comprehensive and lasting peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. That has been the policy of every administration, Republican and Democrat, since before President Reagan and all the way through to the present day. Second, because President Reagan’s words highlight the United States’s long-standing position that Israeli settlement activity in territories occupied in 1967 undermines Israel’s security, harms the viability of a negotiated two-state outcome and erodes prospects for peace and stability in the region.

AMY GOODMAN: So that’s the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, explaining the reason the U.S. would be abstaining from this resolution that was passed by the U.N. Security Council. Yousef Munayyer, so, in fact, Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, is singling out Barack Obama and making it personal.

YOUSEF MUNAYYER: Absolutely. What you’re seeing right now, and the reason why Samantha Power and the administration have felt the need to defend themselves by citing Ronald Reagan even though this has been long-standing U.S. policy, is because they’re being attacked by the right in an attempt right now—and we’re seeing Netanyahu do this, you know, in very hysterical fashion since the passing of this resolution—to intimidate any future American elected officials from even deviating the slightest bit from the every whim and demand of Israel’s right-wing government. And I think that is what you’re seeing take place today, not simply because they have an issue with the Obama administration, but because they have an issue with U.S. policy, and they don’t want to see the United States ever supporting the idea that there should be pressure on Israel for its illegal settlements.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Netanyahu took the extraordinary step of summoning the U.S. ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, and told his Foreign Ministry to summon the ambassadors of the 10 countries which voted in favor of the resolution which have embassies in Israel. And now there’s discussion of defunding the United Nations. What does the U.S. pay? Something like, well, more than a fifth of.

YOUSEF MUNAYYER: A very large portion of the United Nations budget comes from the United States. Yeah, look, there is, as I said, an effort right now to really intimidate politicians in the United States from ever deviating from the Benjamin Netanyahu line.

The issue of settlements, you know, this is not controversial. There is an effort now to make this controversial, even though it’s very clear in international law and agreed on in the international community by everyone except for the Israeli right wing that settlements are illegal under international law and are an obstacle to, you know, the vision of an independent, contiguous Palestinian state, which is the stated policy of all of these governments. So, there’s a lot of theater going on now.

But I think, you know, the important thing about all of this, this resolution and so on, is not so much the language about settlements as much as the language about salvaging the two-state solution, the desperation that’s expressed in this text about the two-state solution dying. When you read that and you consider that the incoming administration, the Trump administration, takes a completely different view, takes the Benjamin Netanyahu view, opposes the idea of a Palestinian state, has appointed an ambassador to Israel that opposes the idea of a Palestinian state, supports settlements, literally, and—

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean, “literally”?

YOUSEF MUNAYYER: As in he has dedicated his life’s work to funneling money to Israeli settlements through raising charitable contributions in the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: Like Beit El.

YOUSEF MUNAYYER: Like Beit El, precisely. So, you know, you have an ambassador now to Israel that is incapable of delivering the message that settlements are an obstacle, because he, himself, has helped create those obstacles.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to turn to David Friedman, the bankruptcy lawyer, Donald Trump’s bankruptcy lawyer, who Donald Trump tapped to be the next U.S. ambassador to Israel. In October, Friedman was interviewed on the Israeli network i24news.

NURIT ZUNGER: Will Donald Trump recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s sole capital?

DAVID FRIEDMAN: Yes. He said that countless times, that he will recognize the city of Jerusalem as Israel’s eternal capital. And he’ll move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

NURIT ZUNGER: All right. So, Trump’s policies, as far as the Israeli Jewish American voter, why should Israeli voters, Israeli-American voters, vote for Trump?

DAVID FRIEDMAN: Well, if those who want to see a strong relationship between Israel and the United States with no daylight, those who want to see Israel protected at the United Nations, those who want to see the strongest level of military and strategic cooperation between the two countries, those who don’t want to see any daylight between the two countries, those that want to live in an environment where the United States doesn’t attempt to impose upon Israel a solution to the Palestinian conflict against the state of Israel, those that want to see Jerusalem recognized as the capital of Israel, you know, vote for Donald Trump.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s the bankruptcy lawyer, David Friedman. And normally people wouldn’t care so much what a bankruptcy lawyer had to say on this issue, except that Donald Trump has tapped his bankruptcy lawyer to be the U.S. ambassador to Israel. Yousef Munayyer, the significance of both this and that move of the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and then also this latest news of the hundreds of homes that will be built in Jerusalem?

YOUSEF MUNAYYER: Right. Yeah, there’s something particularly fitting about putting a bankruptcy lawyer in charge of U.S. Middle East policy, isn’t there? You know, it’s very clear, from Donald Trump’s statements, from Donald Trump’s behavior, from the Donald Trump campaign’s effort to change the GOP platform to include the most anti-Palestinian language that we’ve ever seen in a national party platform, that this is an administration that is going to wholeheartedly embrace Israeli apartheid. They are going to give a green light to Israeli settlement expansion. They are going to, as the, you know, appointee for ambassador stated, move the embassy to Jerusalem. You know, all of these things are—

AMY GOODMAN: What would happen if they did that, by the way?

YOUSEF MUNAYYER: Well, we’ll find out. But I think—I think there’s two things that are important to think about in terms of implications. There’s the reaction from the Arab and Muslim world. And there’s reason to think that there is going to be varied reactions in the Arab and Muslim world to that sort of move. But there’s also the very clear message that that sends about U.S. policy towards the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Jerusalem has always been treated as a separate entity, a separate issue, by U.S. policy. And U.S. policy since 1947 really has been that Jerusalem has a separate status, a unique status, that has to be resolved through negotiations by Israelis and Palestinians. That’s why there’s not even an American embassy in West Jerusalem, let alone East Jerusalem. So, if you have the move of an embassy to Jerusalem, what you are essentially saying is that, you know, bipartisan American policy, for decades, towards the Israeli-Palestinian peace process has just been thrown out the window. And I think, you know, the two-state solution, frankly, has long been dead. They’ve never had a ceremony to bury it. I think if they do move the embassy to Jerusalem, they can have that ceremony when they lay the cornerstone for the embassy in Jerusalem.

AMY GOODMAN: I wonder if Trump’s businesses will be bidding on building that embassy. But let me ask you about this comment from the spokesperson for the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, David Keyes, who told Fox News the Obama administration helped initiate and push the resolution condemning settlement activity.

DAVID KEYES: We have rather ironclad information, from sources in both the Arab world and internationally, that this was a deliberate push by the United States, and, in fact, they helped create the resolution in the first place. And so, it’s deeply disappointing that this has been the path of President Obama. Of course, we’re deeply grateful for the military assistance that Israel has gotten, but this resolution pushes peace further away. And it’s no surprise that many, many senior Democrats and Republicans have condemned this resolution.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that is David Keyes, Benjamin Netanyahu’s spokesperson. The suggestion that the U.S. initiated this?

YOUSEF MUNAYYER: So what? What’s the big deal if the United States actually, for once, decides to act in a way that follows through with its stated policy for decades? I don’t see anything particularly controversial about this. And the fact that the Israelis are trying to do so, make it so, in this hyperpartisan way—

AMY GOODMAN: But the U.S. adamantly denies it.

YOUSEF MUNAYYER: Well, the U.S. adamantly denies it, and they’re doing that because of the way in which this has become a third rail issue. Even the slightest bit of criticism of Israeli policy has become a third rail issue in American domestic politics. And, you know, the last thing I would say about this is, you know, if the Israelis want to attach themselves here in the United States not just to the Republican Party, which has been happening for a number of years, but to the Donald Trump wing of the Republican Party, you know, that may be helpful for a couple of years. But in the long term, I think it’s going to send a very clear message to the American people about this notion of shared values between Israel and the United States being quite bogus and being something that most Americans, who believe in values that are not embodied by Donald Trump or Benjamin Netanyahu, will ultimately reject.

AMY GOODMAN: Yousef Munayyer, I want to thank you for being with us, executive director of US Campaign for Palestinian Rights.

When we come back, Donald Trump is having a hard time finding performing talent for his inauguration. What is he offering to get A-list performers to come to Washington? Stay with us.

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