- Charles Dharapak/AP
The UN Security Council passed a resolution Friday urging Israel to halt building settlements on occupied Palestinian land in an unexpected vote from which the US abstained.
The US’s ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, abstained from voting on the resolution, which has been perceived as a slight against Israel.
“The grudge match” between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “finally reached its peak,” said Jonathan Schanzer, a Middle East analyst and vice president of research at the conservative think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies, based in Washington, DC.
“This is a move that Obama has been orchestrating for months, if not years,” Schanzer said, alluding to the chilly relationship between the American and Israeli leaders. “He had several options at his disposal, but a United Nations Security Council resolution is the most permanent among them. Indeed, you can’t unring this bell.”
Obama’s deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, said the president decided to have the US abstain from the UN vote on Friday morning after seeing the final text of the resolution. Rhodes added that the notion that Obama’s decision was influenced by Trump’s policies was “absurd.”
Both Netanyahu and US President-elect Donald Trump urged the US to vote against the resolution, which was sponsored by Egypt. When it became clear that Obama was not going to obstruct the vote, however, Netanyahu reportedly called Trump and asked that he weigh in, which Trump did in a statement on Thursday morning.
“The resolution being considered at the United Nations Security Council regarding Israel should be vetoed,” Trump said, calling the vote “extremely unfair.”
Trump also spoke with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi about the vote by phone on Thursday, according to Reuters. Sisi withdrew the measure under pressure, but it was ultimately put forward by New Zealand, Malaysia, Venezuela, and Senegal.
- Thomson Reuters
Netanyahu’s office released a statement rejecting the vote, calling it “absurd” and saying Israel “looks forward” to working with the incoming Trump administration to “negate” the resolution’s “harmful effects.”
After the vote Friday, Trump promised that “things will be different” after he takes office.
Explaining her decision to abstain from the vote, Power said the “US has been sending the message that the settlements must stop, privately and publicly, for five decades,” and that allowing its passage “is in line with bipartisan US policy.” She added that the US is still committed to Israel’s security and working toward a two-state solution with Palestine.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said in a lengthy statement that the US “acted with one primary objective in mind: to preserve the possibility of the two-state solution.”
“While we do not agree with every aspect of this resolution, it rightly condemns violence and incitement and settlement activity and calls on both sides to take constructive steps to reverse current trends and advance the prospects for a two-state solution,” he said.
The last time the 15-member UN Security Council adopted a resolution on Israeli settlements was 36 years ago. The chamber broke into spontaneous applause after the resolution was passed, with 14 members voting “yes” and only the US abstaining.
The resolution “condemned all measures aimed at altering the demographic composition, character, and status of the Palestinian territory, occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem,” and requested the UN secretary-general “to report to the council every three months on the implementation of the provisions of the present resolution.”
Republican lawmakers were quick to condemn the resolution’s passage. House Speaker Paul Ryan called the vote “absolutely shameful” and “a blow to peace that sets a dangerous precedent for further diplomatic efforts to isolate and demonize Israel.” He vowed that “our unified Republican government” would work to reverse the resolution.
Arizona Sen. John McCain, the Republican chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a statement that the vote “marks another shameful chapter in the bizarre anti-Israel history of the United Nations.” He also slammed the US for abstaining, saying it “made us complicit in this outrageous attack.”
And South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham vowed to form a bipartisan coalition to “suspend or significantly reduce” US assistance to the UN if the resolution passed. The US contributes approximately 22% of the UN’s total budget, he said.
Democrats, too, issued scathing statements aimed at the Obama administration over the vote.
Geopolitical expert Ian Bremmer, president of the political risk firm Eurasia Group, said on Twitter that “if Obama wanted to move on Israeli settlements issue at UN, he had eight years” to do so.
“After Trump’s election, it’s a farce,” he added. “Credit deserved: zero.”
Schanzer seemed to agree with Bremmer that the US’s abstention appeared politically motivated.
“I strongly believe that had Hillary Clinton won the election, Obama would have respected her desire for him to stay away from eleventh-hour moves that could encumber her ability to restore the warm ties that the US has long enjoyed with Israel,” Schanzer said. “From Hawaii, Obama was leading from behind, pushing other countries to punish Israel with a resolution at the Security Council.”
- REUTERS/Jason Reed
Others applauded the vote as a promising step down the path of implementing a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine.
The United Kingdom’s ambassador to the UN, Matthew Rycroft, said that the resolution was a “sober recognition that the two-state solution is slipping away,” and that Israel’s settlement expansion was “corroding the possibility” of a lasting peace in the Middle East.
It is “because of our commitment to Israel’s security that we voted for today’s resolution and worked tirelessly to draft a clear and balanced text,” Rycroft said. “The settlement expansion is illegal and is not in Israel’s long-term interests.”
The left-wing Jewish lobbying organization J-Street said in a statement that it welcomed the US abstention on the council’s vote, “which reaffirms the need for a two-state solution and calls for a halt to actions by both sides that serve to undermine the prospects for peace.”
Palestine’s ambassador to the UN said that the vote “will alleviate the suffering of our people,” and that “our appeals [to stop the settlements] have been calls for the council to contribute” to long-term peace in the region and in the world. He said “urgent efforts are needed” to hold Israel accountable for its settlement expansion.