The 'grudge match' between Obama and Israel 'has finally reached its peak'

Barack Obama (R) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2015. Photo: Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images

The UN Security Council passed a resolution Friday urging Israel to halt building settlements on occupied Palestinian land, in an unexpected vote from which the US abstained.

The US’s ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, abstained from voting on the resolution, which has been perceived as a slight against Israel.

“The grudge match between Obama and Netanyahu finally reached its peak,” said Jonathan Schanzer, a Middle East analyst and vice president of research at the Foundation for Defence of Democracies.

“This is a move that Obama has been orchestrating for months if not years,” Schanzer continued, referring to the chilly relationship between the American and Israeli leaders. “He had several options at his disposal, but a United Nations Security Council Resolution is the most permanent among them. Indeed, you can’t unring this bell. “

Both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President-elect Donald Trump urged the US to vote against the resolution, which was sponsored by Egypt.

An Israeli official told CNN that the Israeli government had “implored the White House not to go ahead and told them that if they did, we would have no choice but to reach out to President-elect Trump.” Netanyahu reportedly called Trump and asked that he weigh in, which he did in a statement Wednesday morning.

“The resolution being considered at the United Nations Security Council regarding Israel should be vetoed,” Trump said, calling the vote “extremely unfair.”

Trump reportedly also spoke with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi about the vote by phone on Thursday. And after the vote Friday, Trump promised that “things will be different” after he takes office.

Explaining her decision to abstain from the vote, Power said the “US has called for settlements to stop for five decades, and that allowing its passage “is in line with bipartisan US policy.” She added that the US is still committed to Israel’s security and working toward a two-state solution with Palestine.

The last time the UN Security Council adopted a resolution on Israeli settlements was 36 years ago. The chamber broke into spontaneous applause after the resolution was passed, with 14 members voting “yes” and only the US abstaining.

The resolution “condemned all measures aimed at altering the demographic composition, character and status of the Palestinian territory, occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem,” and requested that the UN Secretary-General “to report to the Council every three months on the implementation of the provisions of the present resolution.”

Republican lawmakers were quick to condemn the resolution’s passage.House Speaker Paul Ryan called the vote “absolutely shameful,” and “a blow to peace that sets a dangerous precedent for further diplomatic efforts to isolate and demonize Israel.” He vowed that “our unified Republican government” will work to reverse the resolution.

US Sen. John McCain, the Republican chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a statement that the vote “marks another shameful chapter in the bizarre anti-Israel history of the United Nations.” He also slammed the US for abstaining, saying it “made us complicit in this outrageous attack.”

And South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham vowed to form a bipartisan coalition to “suspend or significantly reduce” US assistance to the UN if the resolution passed.

Geopolitical expert Ian Bremmer, president of the political risk firm Eurasia Group, said on Twitter that “if Obama wanted to move on Israeli settlements issue at UN, he had eight years” to do so.

“After Trump’s election, it’s a farce,” he added. “Credit deserved: Zero.”

Schanzer, of the FDD, seemed to agree that the US’s abstention seemed politically motivated.

“I strongly believe that had Hillary Clinton won the election, Obama would have respected her desire for him to stay away from 11th-hour moves that could encumber her ability to restore the warm ties that the US has long enjoyed with Israel,” Schanzer said. “From Hawaii, Obama was leading from behind, pushing other countries to punish Israel with a resolution at the Security Council.”

Still others applauded the vote as a promising step down the path of implementing a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine.

The United Kingdom’s ambassador to the UN, Matthew Rycroft, said that the resolution was a “sober recognition that the two-state solution is slipping away,” and that Israel’s settlement expansion was “corroding the possibility” of a lasting piece in the Middle East.

It is “because of our commitment to Israel’s security that we voted for today’s resolution and worked tirelessly to draft a clear and balanced text,” Rycroft said. “The settlement expansion is illegal, and is not in Israel’s long-term interests.”

The left-wing Jewish lobbying organisation, J-Street, said in a statement that it welcomed the US abstention on the UNSC vote, “reaffirming the need for two states while opposing settlements, incitement and terror.”

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