Dangerous Parting Shot at Israel
December 24, 2016
PRESIDENT OBAMA’S decision to abstain
on a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements
reverses decades of practice by both Democratic and Republican presidents. The
United States vetoed past resolutions on the grounds that they unreasonably
singled out Jewish communities in occupied territories as an obstacle to Middle
East peace, and that U.N. action was more likely to impede than advance
negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.
approved 14 to 0 by the Security Council Friday, is subject to the same
criticism: It will encourage Palestinians to pursue more international sanctions
against Israel rather than seriously consider the concessions necessary for
statehood, and it will give a boost to the international boycott and divestment
movement against the Jewish state, which has become a rallying cause for
anti-Zionists. At the same time, it will almost certainly not stop Israeli
construction in the West Bank, much less in East Jerusalem, where Jewish housing
was also deemed by the resolution to be “a flagrant violation under
By abstaining, the administration did not explicitly
support that position, which has not been U.S. policy since the Carter
explaining the vote, U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power pointed out that the
council was sanctioning Israel even while failing to take action to stop a
potential genocide in South Sudan or the slaughter in Aleppo, Syria. Yet in
failing to veto the measure, the Obama administration set itself apart both from
previous administrations and from the incoming presidency of Donald Trump, who
spoke out strongly against the resolution.
A lame-duck White House may feel a radical change in policy
is justified by Israel’s shift to the right under Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu; Israel’s governing coalition is supporting
legislation that would legalize dozens of settlements that Israel
itself defines as illegal, because they were constructed on private Palestinian
property. Mr. Netanyahu supported a
partial settlement freeze for 10 months in 2009 and 2010 at Mr.
Obama’s behest, but has since allowed construction, including in some areas
deep in the West Bank.
Nevertheless, settlements do not explain the
administration’s repeated failures to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace. The
Palestinian Authority under Mahmoud Abbas proved unwilling to negotiate
seriously even during the settlement freeze, and it refused to accept a
framework for negotiations painstakingly drawn up by Secretary of State John F.
Kerry in 2014. In past negotiations, both sides have acknowledged that any deal
will involve the annexation by Israel of settlements near its borders, where
most of the current construction takes place — something the U.N.
resolution, which was pressed by the Palestinians, did not acknowledge or
take into account.
Israeli officials charged that the abstention represented a
vindictive parting shot by Mr. Obama at Mr. Netanyahu, with whom he has
feuded more bitterly than he did with most U.S. adversaries. The vote could also
be seen as an attempt to preempt Mr. Trump, who appears ready to shift U.S.
policy to the opposite extreme after naming a militant
advocate of the settlements as his ambassador to Israel. Whatever the
motivation, Mr. Obama’s gesture is likely to do more harm than good.