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Analyzing The Impact Of The U.N. Resolution On Israeli Settlements


We're going to start the program today with two big votes at the United Nations. In just a few minutes, we'll talk about a U.S.-backed measure aimed at bringing peace to South Sudan that failed. But first, reaction continues to pour in after the Security Council passed a resolution condemning Israeli settlements. The U.S. abstained from the vote, even though it could have exercised its veto power, and that is a major break from traditional U.S. action.

We wanted to know more about this so we're joined now by Ambassador Dennis Ross. He helped mediate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict during the Clinton administration. He's currently a distinguished fellow at The Washington Institute. That's a foundation looking at U.S. interests in the Middle East. He joins us via Skype from Tel Aviv.

Ambassador Ross, thanks for joining us.

DENNIS ROSS: Thank you.

AUBREY: So first off today, the U.S. abstained from the vote that basically allowed this new resolution to pass that condemns Israeli settlements. What is the likely impact of this, or is it mainly symbolic?

ROSS: Well, I suspect it's more symbolic than anything else. And the reason I say that is that it's hard for it to really constitute some kind of precedent. So if the next president is going to adopt a different posture, if this really isn't laying a predicate for sanctions, it's difficult to see how it really represents something that is substantive. I suspect it really is much more of a symbol than anything else.

AUBREY: Now, there's been tension between the Obama administration and Prime Minister Netanyahu's government for, you know, some time now over the issue of settlements as well as the Iran nuclear deal. What is the response from Israel and from the Palestinians?

ROSS: Well, you know, the response from the Israelis has been a very tough one. They see this as the U.S. not standing by Israel, not maintaining what has been a traditional posture. For the Palestinians who've been trying hard to internationalize the conflict, this is very much where they would like to see the focal point of activities. Even if it's symbolic, from their standpoint, it's a statement on the world stage. And for Palestinians, generally, the one place they feel they get a kind of broader understanding is on the world stage.

AUBREY: It's interesting to note that there was applause in the chamber. Applause broke out following the vote, and the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, made the case that the vote was consistent with a bipartisan consensus that she said goes back to Ronald Reagan. What's the point she was trying to make here? What does she mean?

ROSS: Well, I think what she was trying to say is that American policy on Israeli settlement activity has been consistent, at least in the sense that every administration has seen it as an obstacle to peace. The truth is every administration since Jimmy Carter's has viewed it as a political issue, not a legal issue. This was the first time that the Obama administration had actually allowed such a resolution to go through.

AUBREY: You've already mentioned that President-elect Trump is not happy about the decision. He tweeted, things will be different after January 20. And Republican Senator Lindsey Graham from South Carolina is saying that the U.S. should pull funding from the U.N. What do you think we can expect going forward?

ROSS: Well, I do think that the - in the near term, there's going to be a kind of reaction, or even a kind of backlash, along the lines that you saw, meaning that I think there'll be a real hesitancy to use the U.N. as a forum when it relates to the Israeli-Palestinian issue. We'll certainly see that in the early stages of the Trump administration. What we don't know is - is the Trump administration going to engage in any kind of consistent approach to Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy?

AUBREY: All right, so something to keep watching. Ambassador Dennis Ross is a distinguished fellow at The Washington Institute. He joined us from Tel Aviv in Israel.

Ambassador Ross, thanks so much for joining us.

ROSS: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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