President Barack Obama’s administration staged a “shameful ambush” by allowing the UN Security Council to pass a resolution declaring Israel’s West Bank settlements illegal, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in his first public comments since Friday’s vote.
Netanyahu said Obama broke a long-standing U.S. commitment not to allow the UN to impose conditions on Israel in its conflict with the Palestinians. He spoke Saturday night at a ceremony for the start of the Hanukkah holiday, a day after the Security Council voted 14-0, with the U.S. abstaining, in favor of Resolution 2334.
The measure demands that Israel cease construction in all areas it captured in the 1967 Middle East war. While the immediate practical impact is unclear, the resolution could strengthen the movement to boycott Israel and open the door for lawsuits againstIsrael in international bodies.
The U.S. abstention highlighted the increasingly frayed relationship between Obama and Netanyahu. The Security Council vote came in the waning weeks of Obama’s presidency, as Israel looks forward to warmer relations with President-elect Donald Trump, who had pressured Obama to veto the resolution in an unusual breach of transition protocol.
“The big loss yesterday for Israel in the United Nations will make it much harder to negotiate peace. Too bad, but we will get it done anyway!” Trump told his 17.9 million Twitter followers a few hours after Netanyahu’s comments.
Netanyahu clashed publicly with Obama over the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, denouncing it in a speech to Congress that wasn’t coordinated with the White House; relations never recovered.
The Obama administration has denied that Friday’s vote breached any U.S. commitments to Israel, and said instead that it’s in keeping with U.S. support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel says the resolution will convince Palestinians they can get what they want without having to negotiate with Israel, and will make them more intransigent.
The resolution “doesn’t bring peace closer. It pushes it further away,” Netanyahu said Saturday.
Palestinian leaders welcomed the resolution’s passage. The office of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said in a statement in Arabic that the move is “a big blow for the Israeli political policy, a condemnation for settlements and consensus by the international community and a support for the two-state solution.”
Netanyahu said countries that worked against Israel to pass the resolution would pay a diplomatic and economic price. Israel moved quickly to recall its ambassadors from New Zealand and Senegal, the co-sponsors of the resolution with whom Israel has diplomatic ties, ended aid programs to Senegal, and canceled a planned visit by Ukraine’s prime minister. Netanyahu also said Saturday he would cut off 30 million shekels ($7.9 million) in funding to UN institutions.
Under the resolution, he said, Jerusalem’s Jewish Quarter and the Western Wall would be considered “occupied territory,” which he termed “absurd.” Netanyahu said friends of Israel in the U.S. and the incoming Trump administration would fight anti-Israel efforts at the UN Trump tweeted on Friday that “as to the UN, things will be different after Jan. 20,” the day he takes office.
Even opposition politicians criticized the vote, with Zionist Union head Isaac Herzog describing it as the most difficult blow Israel had suffered in decades. Education Minister Naftali Bennett of the Jewish Home party, which opposes a Palestinian state, said Israel should annex portions of the West Bank in response.
To contact the reporter on this story: Michael S. Arnold in Tel Aviv at email@example.com.