A Frantic Path to Obama’s Dark Side: The U.N. Vote on Israeli SettlementsPosted: December 24, 2016
Israeli officials became convinced Obama might take action after Trump’s election; Palestinians believed new administration would never endorse a vote critical of Israel.
In three frenetic days of diplomacy this week, President Barack Obama openly sided with the United Nations Security Council against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. And the fallout for U.S.-Israel relations, and the future of the Middle East peace process, could be profound, said current and former U.S. officials.
Resolutions at the U.N. concerning the Israeli settlement issue had been circulating for around a year, according to U.S. and Arab diplomats. Obama administration officials said their plans on Mideast peace, however, were complicated by the U.S. presidential elections. The White House didn’t want to undermine the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, who is viewed as a strong supporter of Israel.
Israel’s government became increasingly convinced Mr. Obama might take action after Donald Trump’s surprise victory. Israeli officials have described the time before the president elect’s Jan. 20 inauguration as the “kill zone,” when the Obama administration could take steps that would be difficult to reverse.
Israeli officials said they were spooked by a Dec. 4 speech Secretary of State John Kerry gave in Washington in which he sharply criticized Mr. Netanyahu’s settlement policy. Mr. Kerry then held meetings with the Palestinians’ lead negotiator, Saeb Erekat, on Dec. 12 at the State Department to discuss the peace process.
A senior Israeli official said its government got wind that Mr. Kerry conveyed to the Palestinian diplomat at that meeting that the U.S. was likely to abstain on the U.N. resolution. “Kerry was colluding with the Palestinians to put the resolution in motion,” said the Israeli official.
Obama administration officials denied “previewing” the U.S. vote to anyone.
As early as October, Palestinian diplomats at the U.N. began assessing prospects for a Security Council resolution. They drafted two resolutions: one that would condemn Israel’s rapid expansion of settlements in disputed territories of West Bank and East Jerusalem, and another that would recognize Palestine as a state at the U.N.
Arab diplomats said the Palestinians dropped the statehood resolution because it became clear that it would be vetoed by the U.S. Some thought the U.S. might allow a resolution on settlements to pass—by abstaining from the vote—because it was in line with Mr. Obama’s stated views that settlements were an obstacle to peace, diplomats said.
In early December, diplomats said the overall consensus was that the Council should move on a resolution because of a perception that the new U.S. administration would never endorse a vote critical of Israel.
Palestinian ambassador Riyad Mansur held meetings with Council diplomats to sound them out. The Arab Ministerial Committee, which met in Cairo at the end of October, advised that….(read more)
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