Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is taking diplomatic action against countries that co-sponsored the U.N. Security Council resolution against the buildup of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which Palestinians want as a capitol for a future state.
Netanyahu on Saturday ordered Israel’s ambassadors to New Zealand and Senegal to return home for consultations.
Friday’s vote was scheduled at the request of those two countries, as well as Venezuela and Malaysia. Egypt first proposed the measure, but withdrew its request Thursday after a telephone call between Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi and U.S. President-elect Donald Trump.
Frustration in the outgoing Obama administration over the pace of expansion of Israeli settlements boiled over Friday, when the U.S. took the unusual step of allowing the resolution to pass in the Security Council.
“We could not in good conscience veto a resolution,” the usual U.S. practice on Security Council votes targeting Israel, the White House deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, told reporters.
Rhodes said that despite the United States repeatedly standing up for Israel, its government had ignored concerns about the growth of settlements in Palestinian territory occupied since 1967. He noted that there are now 90,000 settlers living east of the barrier that Israel had itself created.
“We’ve tried everything … and the one consistent outcome was that it didn’t work,” Rhodes said.
Complaints from Israel
The American abstention was immediately characterized by Israel and its supporters from both parties in the U.S. Congress as a stinging rebuke, if not a betrayal.
The Israeli ambassador to the U.N., Danny Danon, called the resolution “disgraceful” and said Israel had expected its usual support from the United States.
The action by the Security Council is a “victory for terror, hatred and violence,” Danon declared.
Netanyahu’s office declared the resolution was “shameful,” and said his government would not abide by its terms.
U.N. would halt settlements on Arab land
The resolution calls on Israel to “immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem.”
It is the first Middle East motion to pass in the Security Council in eight years. Applause broke out when the vote result — 14 “yes” votes out of the 15 council members — was announced.
The outcome demonstrated that under President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, foreign policy has “gone from naive and foolish to flat-out reckless,” said Senator Lindsey Graham.
Another senior Republican in the Senate, John McCain, declared that Washington’s abstention at the U.N. made the U.S. complicit “in this outrageous attack” and predicted this would be “yet another roadblock to peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and embolden the enemies of Israel.”
Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer said it was “extremely frustrating, disappointing and confounding” that the Obama administration had failed to veto the U.N. resolution.
White House explains vote
At the White House, Rhodes had a different view, saying: “We cannot simply have a two-state solution be a slogan while the trend lines on the ground are such that a two-state solution [a resolution of the dispute that would recognize both a Jewish state and a Palestinian state] is becoming less and less viable.”
Speaking by telephone to White House reporters, Rhodes defended the controversial abstention: “The notion that vetoing this resolution would have somehow slowed the settlement activity, I think, flies in the face of any piece of evidence that anybody who is looking at the facts can see.”
After the Security Council vote, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, said Israel’s policy stance — expanding settlements while also nominally pursuing a two-state solution — is based on “irreconcilable” positions.
“None of us can give up on a two-state solution,” Power said.
Trump: Things will be different soon
President-elect Donald Trump, who will succeed Obama in less than a month, wanted the United States to veto the resolution. Following the vote, he tweeted: “As to the U.N., things will be different after Jan. 20” (inauguration day).
Obama’s administration has not had a warm relationship with Netanyahu’s government despite its consistent veto of resolutions opposed to Israeli settlements. The incoming Trump administration is expected to forge a stronger relationship with the Israeli government.
Trump has faced criticism in some quarters for making policy declarations before his inauguration, a break with the tradition of not overshadowing the incumbent.
“There’s one president at a time,” Rhodes said in explaining why the Obama administration took the action at the U.N. despite just having weeks remaining in office.
Split undermines U.S. credibility
The White House had heard from the president-elect’s team about the Security Council resolution, but Rhodes said he was not aware that Obama and his successor had spoken about it.
The conflicting messages between the outgoing and incoming administrations “is going to undermine U.S. credibility,” said Aaron David Miller, a Middle East negotiator under three different U.S. presidents, “because the president is going to walk away from this, disavow it, and the next administration is not going to be nearly as tough on Israeli settlement activity as the current administration.
“Basically, you’re going to create a situation where, in reaction to this Security Council resolution, you might even get a more muscular approach from the Israeli government and the [incoming] American administration,” Miller told VOA.
While many Palestinians celebrated the outcome of the vote in New York, others were more circumspect.
Analyst: Two-state idea is dead
“No piece of paper is going to change the realities on the ground,” Yosuef Munayyer, executive director of the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, told VOA News. “Unless there’s some sort of tangible action that results from this, I don’t see this being very consequential for anything other than setting a narrative about why we’re in the situation we’re in.”
Munayyer predicted Friday’s resolution won’t do much to revive efforts to reach a two-state solution. He says that idea is dead, in large part because of the expansive Israeli settlements.
VOA’s Margaret Besheer, Marissa Melton and William Gallo contributed to this report.