December 23, 2016
In one last snub to the Jewish state, President Obama allowed a resolution condemning Israeli settlement construction in disputed Palestinian territory to pass through the United Nations Security Council, marking a dramatic change in U.S. policy just weeks before leaving office.
The U.S. did not go so far as to vote for the resolution, but allowed it to pass by abstaining from the vote after decades of vetoing such proposals at the Security Council. Obama ordered the veto of a similar resolution in 2011, but his administration has grown increasingly critical of the settlements in the past year and frustrated with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, which the Obama team sees as partially responsible for the failure of recent Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power prefaced her statement on the abstention by quoting President Reagan’s 1982 statement that “settlement activity is in no way necessary for the security of Israel” in order to situate Obama’s decision in the current of U.S. foreign policy history.
“Our vote today is fully in line with the bipartisan history of how American presidents have approached both the issue and the role of this body,” Power said.
But Power bracketed that statement by condemning U.N. hostility toward Israel.
“For the simple truth is that as long as Israel has been a member of this institution, Israel has been treated differently from other nations at the United Nations,” she said, noting that the U.N. General Assembly and Human Rights Council adopted a combined 30 resolutions targeting Israel in 2016, “more than those focused on Syria, North Korea, Iran and South Sudan put together.”
Power cited that history to explain why the U.S. wouldn’t formally support the resolution. “One cannot completely separate the vote from the venue,” she said. “It is because this forum too often continues to be biased against Israel, because there are important issues that are not sufficiently addressed in this resolution, and because the United States does not agree with every word in this text that the United States did not vote in favor of this resolution.
“But it is because this resolution reflects the facts on the ground,” she continued, “and is consistent with U.S. policy across Republican and Democrat administrations throughout the history of Israel that the United States did not veto it.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., called Obama’s decision “absolutely shameful” in a statement released after the vote, and looked toward the future Trump administration to “reverse the damage done” to the U.S.-Israel relationship by Obama.
“Today’s vote is a blow to peace that sets a dangerous precedent for further diplomatic efforts to isolate and demonize Israel,” Ryan said. “Our unified Republican government will work to reverse the damage done by this administration, and rebuild our alliance with Israel.”
Israeli officials have accused Obama of overseeing an “abandonment of Israel” in his final days.
“The U.S administration secretly cooked up with the Palestinians an extreme anti-Israeli resolution behind Israel’s back which would be a tail wind for terror and boycotts and effectively make the Western Wall occupied Palestinian territory,” one official told the Associated Press.
Secretary of State John Kerry canceled a speech intended to accompany the resolution when the vote, originally scheduled for Thursday, was postponed, but he offered a detailed argument against current Israeli policy in early December.
“Many of these outposts, most of them, are built on what is considered to be Palestinian private land,” Kerry said Dec. 4 at the Saban Forum. “I’m not here to tell you that the settlements are the reason for the conflict. No, they’re not. No, they’re not. But I also cannot accept the notion that they don’t affect the peace process, that they aren’t a barrier to the capacity to have peace.”
Senate Republicans tried to kill the resolution by threatening to cut funding for the United Nations and any countries on the Security Council that vote for the resolution.
“Any nation which backs this resolution and receives assistance from the United States will put that assistance in jeopardy,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Friday morning.
President-elect Trump and Senate Republicans could find bipartisan support for ameliorating the effect of the vote on Israel, given the Democrat opposition to the resolution. “The draft United Nations resolution directly contradicts the Senate resolution I authored – and passed unanimously last year – condemning Palestinian terrorism and calling on all parties to return to the negotiating table immediately and without preconditions,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said Thursday. “This United Nations resolution would undermine, if not undo, the chances for productive discussions between the two sides.”
Kerry argued in December that Israeli government is short-circuiting such talks by pursuing the settlement policy. “The left in Israel is telling everybody they are a barrier to peace, and the right that supports it openly supports it because they don’t want peace,” he said. “They believe it’s the greater Israel . . . And more than 50 percent of the ministers in the current government have publicly stated they are opposed to a Palestinian state and there will be no Palestinian state.”