Obama and Netanyahu
Credit: Pete Souza/Official White House

Donald Trump can change our nation’s foreign relations with Israel, but he can’t undo the latest UN Security Council Resolution condemning Israel’s settlement activity in East Jerusalem and the West Bank as “a flagrant violation under international law” that is “dangerously imperiling the viability” of a two-state solution. The Security Council voted unanimously, 14-0 with the United States abstaining, and then broke out in self-congratulatory applause.

Nancy Pelosi gently criticized the vote, while Chuck Schumer said, “It is extremely frustrating, disappointing and confounding that the administration has failed to veto this resolution.” But their discomfort won’t change the result, either.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should look in the mirror before he criticizes anyone else. It would have been one thing if he had limited himself to playing the role of bad cop to Obama’s good cop as the U.S. negotiated a nuclear agreement with Iran. But he came to Washington and addressed Congress in an attempt to sabotage the negotiations. That was an extraordinary display of disrespect, and it removed any leg he had to stand on as he accuses the president of betrayal.

More broadly, Israel needs to consider the unanimity of global opinion now arrayed against it.

J Street, a Washington-based organization that advocates a two-state solution, said the resolution “conveys the overwhelming support of the international community, including Israel’s closest friends and allies, for the two-state solution, and their deep concern over the deteriorating status quo between Israelis and Palestinians and the lack of meaningful progress toward peace.”

In Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, it’s easier to see people freely expressing their disdain for Netanyahu and what he has wrought than it is here in the United States. Over there, it’s widely appreciated that Netanyahu has been playing a double game, telling international audiences that he still supports a Palestinian state but making sure domestically to protect his right flank by going along with settlement hardliners like Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett.

“He has to choose between the international community and Bennett,” said Shlomo Avineri, a professor of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “It is not an easy choice, but he has to make a choice,” Professor Avineri said, adding: “Is Israel going to alienate itself from the whole world for the sake of settlement activity? And it is the whole world. Is this what Zionism is about?”

What President Obama made clear in ordering the abstention is that, at least under his watch, the U.S. will no longer alienate itself from the whole world for the sake of settlement activity.

Netanyahu has been lashing out like a wounded badger even since the vote, taking pointless and counterproductive actions like accusing the president of making “a shameful, underhanded move,” calling in foreign ambassadors over Christmas to upbraid them, cancelling scheduled visits by dignitaries, and threatening sanctions against countries that vote for the resolution.

Other Israel leaders have been unmerciful in their criticisms of the prime minister. Zionist Union leader Tzipi Livni said that Netanyahu has “lost it” and is behaving in a “hysterical” manner. Opposition leader Isaac Herzog remarked that “arrogance and complacency plugged Netanyahu’s ears.” And Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid was scathing in saying that “what has been happening since the UNSC resolution is unreasonable. It’s not a policy; it’s hysteria. … This doesn’t show strength; it shows stress and confusion.”

At some point, when the entire world is united in their criticisms of your policy, you should really consider the possibility that your policy is wrong. Calling diplomats on Christmas Day to yell at them is the opposite of that kind of self-reflection. Netanyahu can complain to Secretary of State John Kerry that “friends don’t take friends to the Security Council,” but he might have considered that friends don’t behave the way Netanyahu behaved toward our president.

It should be remembered among all the hue and cry emanating from supporters of the right-wing government in Israel that this result was foreseeable. Go back to December 7th, and right in Newsweek, you can read this:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s support for a bill that would legalize Israeli settlement homes on private Palestinian land in the West Bank is seen in Israel as another feint in a power struggle within his ruling right-wing coalition.

But critics in Israel and abroad fear that Netanyahu’s machinations aimed at appeasing political partners could have grave consequences internationally, even if the law does not survive likely court challenges.

Preliminary approval for the bill granted by parliament on Monday has alarmed the United States, European Union and United Nations, raising the possibility of some sort of U.N. resolution before President Barack Obama’s term is up in January.

Also from that article, it’s evident that Germany was furious with Netanyahu’s behavior, that legal advisers to Netanyahu thought it would open Israelis up to criminal prosecution in the Hague (a point that Netanyahu publicly agreed with), and that it wouldn’t even survive a challenge in Israel’s Supreme Court.

Netanyahu himself cited possible court action when he initially opposed the legislation promoted by the far-right Jewish Home party and its leader, Naftali Bennett. Palestinians condemned the bill as a land grab in territory they seek for a state.

But for the fourth-term prime minister, failure to support the bill would have ceded ground to Bennett in their pursuit of conservative voters that form the power base of both Jewish Home and Netanyahu’s Likud.

“Naftali Bennett has scared him more than the U.S. administration and more than the European Union. Even though Netanyahu has been prime minister for 11 years, he still remains more a politician than a leader,” Amnon Abramovitz, political analyst for Israeli Channel Two, told Reuters.

Netanyahu’s reward was for the United Nations Security Council to declare settlement activity “a flagrant violation under international law,” and now he fears that Obama is not done yet. It is apparently the assessment of the Israel Security Council that:

…during the international foreign ministers’ meeting scheduled for January 15 in Paris as part of the French peace initiative, a series of decisions on the peace process will be made. These will immediately be brought to the UN Security Council for a vote and will be adopted there before January 20.

Of course, January 20th is when the Trump administration takes over. However, if a new Resolution is implemented before then that is “done under Security Council enforcement authority,” it would be binding, and not something that Trump could unwind.

I don’t see that happening, but Netanyahu has made enough of a mess even without that double-whammy.

He’s reduced to sending Alan Dershowitz out to pretend that this whole dispute is about denying Jews the ability to pray at the Western Wall.

A more accurate description was made by Obama’s Deputy National Security Advisor, Ben Rhodes:

“Netanyahu had the opportunity to pursue policies that would have led to a different outcome today…. In the absence of any meaningful peace process, as well as in the accelerated settlement activity, we took the decision that we did today to abstain on the resolution.”

Shifting blame onto the president or the United Nations or anti-Semitism is all just so much distraction. Incessantly building on land that should be part of a future Palestinian state is what caused this to happen, and it’s what caused even Israel’s staunchest allies to join in the unanimous rebuke of the international community.

J Street understands this even if Schumer and Pelosi profess not to.

Trump will probably reverse course and give the settlers a free hand to build all they want, but that won’t improve Israel’s pariah status. It will just make sure the United States continues to be lumped in with them for contempt, and worse.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at ProgressPond.com