Netanyahu says ‘no doubt’ US behind UN vote on settlements

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stepped up his broadside at the U.S. government after the UN Security Council declared Israel’s settlements illegal, saying President Barack Obama’s administration “initiated and stood behind” the resolution.

Netanyahu said Obama broke a long-standing U.S. commitment not to allow the UN to impose conditions on Israel in its conflict with the Palestinians. Resolution 2334, which passed Friday by a 14-0 vote with the US abstaining, demands that Israel cease construction in all areas it captured in the 1967 Middle East war and describes the West Bank and East Jerusalem as occupied Palestinian territory.

READ MORE: Defying pressure, the United States lets UN denounce Israeli settlements

“We will do all we can to make sure Israel won’t be harmed by this shameful resolution,” Netanyahu said at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting Sunday, calling the bill “unbalanced and extremely hostile to the State of Israel.”

The resolution calls on member states to differentiate between territories inside and outside the pre-1967 lines in their dealings with Israel. While the immediate practical impact is unclear — the resolution is declaratory but not binding on member states — it could strengthen the movement to boycott or sanction Israel and open the door for more lawsuits against Israel in international bodies. The EU already requires goods produced in Israeli settlements to be labelled distinctly from those made in Israel, allowing consumers to avoid them more easily.

Fraying Ties

The US abstention highlighted the increasingly strained relationship between Obama and Netanyahu. The Security Council vote came in the waning weeks of Obama’s presidency, as Israel looks forward to warmer relations with President-elect Donald Trump, who had pressured Obama to veto the resolution in an unusual breach of transition protocol.

“The big loss yesterday for Israel in the United Nations will make it much harder to negotiate peace. Too bad, but we will get it done anyway!” Trump told his 17.9 million Twitter followers Saturday.

Obama was highly critical of Israel’s West Bank settlements from the moment he entered office, demanding a construction freeze as a precondition for peace talks with the Palestinians. The two leaders then clashed publicly over the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, with Netanyahu denouncing it in a speech to Congress that wasn’t coordinated with the White House and that soured relations further.

The Obama administration has denied Friday’s vote breached any US commitments to Israel, saying it’s in keeping with U.S. support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the United Nations, defended the move to abstain, saying Friday that “one cannot champion” both settlements and the two-state solution.

Under terms of the agreements that have directed Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts for more than two decades, borders and settlements are issues for the two sides to negotiate between themselves in a final peace deal. Israel says the UN vote will convince Palestinians they can get what they want without having to negotiate, making them more intransigent.

The resolution “doesn’t bring peace closer. It pushes it further away,” Netanyahu said Saturday at a ceremony marking the beginning of Hannukah.

Palestinian leaders welcomed the measure’s passage. The office of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said in a statement in Arabic that the move is “a big blow for the Israeli political policy, a condemnation of settlements and consensus by the international community and a support for the two-state solution.” Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad also praised the vote.

Domestic Storm

The domestic fallout of the vote was unclear. Education minister Naftali Bennett of the Jewish Home party, which opposes a Palestinian state, said Israel should annexe portions of the West Bank in response.

A controversial initiative to authorise West Bank outposts — postponed until after Trump takes office next month — could be revived following the UN move, the Times of Israel reported. The bill would legalise some 4 000 housing units in the West Bank.

The opposition took a different lesson from the vote. Zionist Union head Isaac Herzog criticised the UN vote and called it the most difficult blow Israel had suffered in decades, but also presented it as a repudiation of Netanyahu’s policies.

“If Netanyahu has any shred of responsibility, he should give up the keys and understand that he can know longer manage the affairs of state,” Herzog said in a post on his Facebook page. “The only way to stop this dangerous descent that he’s brought us to is with elections and a united struggle to topple Netanyahu.”

Quick Retaliation

Netanyahu said countries that worked to pass the resolution would pay a diplomatic and economic price. Israel moved quickly to recall its ambassadors from New Zealand and Senegal, two co-sponsors of the resolution with which Israel has diplomatic ties, ended aid programs to Senegal, and cancelled a planned visit by Ukraine’s prime minister. Netanyahu also said Saturday he would cut off 30-million shekels ($7.9-million) in funding to UN institutions.

Under the resolution, he said, Jerusalem’s Jewish Quarter and the Western Wall would be considered “occupied territory,” which he termed “absurd.” Netanyahu said friends of Israel in the U.S. and the incoming Trump administration would fight anti-Israel efforts at the UN. Trump tweeted on Friday that “as to the UN, things will be different after January 20,” the day he takes office.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said countries that voted for the resolution were summoned Sunday for reprimands, and Ynet reported U.S. Ambassador Daniel Shapiro would also be summoned this week. Later in the day, Netanyahu announced that government ministers would not meet with ministers of countries that voted for the resolution or fly to those countries.

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