A Tweet From Trump and Pressure on Egyptians: How Israel Blocked UN Vote on Settlements

Netanyahu cleared his schedule and began a massive 15-hour global diplomatic marathon, with Israeli officials reaching out to Trump's team, urging president-elect to voice his objection, while also pressuring Egypt.

L: Donald Trump speaks at a campaign event. R: A screengrab of a video posted by Benjamin Netanyahu on his Facebook page.
AFP / Facebook screenshot

After a 15-hour political drama Thursday, Israel succeeded in deflecting, if only temporarily, a United Nations Security Council vote on a draft resolution against the settlements.

Pressure from the Prime Minister's Bureau on Cairo, which proposed the resolution, requests for assistance and coordination from President-elect Donald Trump and contacts at the UN and in several world capitals caused Egypt to retract its request for a snap vote.

Nevertheless it was made clear to the participants in a meeting of the security-diplomatic cabinet last night that the crisis is ongoing and the possibility remains that a vote will still be held in the next few days.

The saga began on Wednesday night, when the Egyptian delegation to the UN distributed copies of its draft resolution against the settlements to the members of the Security Council and requested that it be brought to the vote on Thursday at 10 P.M. Israel time.

Israel had operated over the past few months on the assumption that a resolution on Israel-Palestine would be brought to the council before the end of President Barack Obama's term on January 20 next year.

Israel's focus was on an Israel-Palestinian resolution and a resolution from New Zealand, but it was not expected to happen this week.

Therefore, the timing of the resolution and the fact that it was proposed by Egypt caught the Foreign Ministry and the PM's bureau by surprise. Despite the supposedly close ties between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi, Egypt gave Israel no early warning of its intentions.

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi.
Maya Alleruzzo, AP

The resolution consisted of a number of formulas distributed by the Palestinians in recent weeks, the main points being that the council:

"Reaffirms that the establishment by Israel of settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-state solution."

■ "Reiterates its demand that Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem.

"Stresses that the cessation of all Israeli settlement activities is essential for salvaging the two-state solution, and calls for affirmative steps to be taken immediately to reverse the negative trends on the ground that are imperiling the two-state solution."

■ "Underlines that the Security Council will not recognize any changes to the 4 June 1967 lines, including with regard to Jerusalem, other than those agreed by the parties through negotiations."

■ "Calls upon all States, to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967."

■ "Calls for immediate steps to prevent all acts of violence against civilians, including acts of terror, as well as all acts of provocation and destruction, calls for accountability in this regard, and calls for compliance with obligations under international law for the strengthening of ongoing efforts to combat terrorism, including through existing security coordination, and to clearly condemn all acts of terrorism; and to refrain from provocative actions, incitement and inflammatory rhetoric."

Netanyahu learned of the move in the middle of the night, while the Knesset was still busy voting on the state budget. At 3 A.M., he tweeted that "The U.S. should veto the anti-Israel resolution at the UN Security Council on Thursday."

In recent months, Netanyahu has expressed his concern that Obama would refrain from vetoing a resolution on the settlements at the Security Council toward the end of his term. Since taking office in 2009, Obama has vetoed a resolution presented to the Security Council once – in February 2011, when the Palestinians brought a resolution against the settlements to a vote.

The last time the council took a decision against the settlements was in 1980. Adoption of the Egyptian resolution could have been an opening for international sanctions against Israel.

Netanyahu's tweet was the start of a global diplomatic marathon by the Foreign Ministry the National Security Council and Netanyahu, who cancelled all his appointments and dealt only with the resolution. A senior official in Jerusalem said that the objective was to bring about the postponement of the resolution in order to gain time to exert pressure on Obama to veto the resolution or on Egypt to withdraw it.

The senior official said that the deep concern in Jerusalem was that Egypt was acting in full coordination with the White House. The assumption in Israel, he added was – and is – that Obama did not intend to veto the resolution but to abstain – thus allowing it to pass.

That concern grew when information arrived in Jerusalem on Thursday morning that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had already prepared a speech on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which he intended giving a few hours before the Security Council session.

In addition to the pressure on Obama, Israel also applied pressure on the Egyptian government. Israeli officials and Western diplomats said that the prime minister's bureau had begun pressuring the Egyptians from early morning in order to delay the resolution. Netanyahu didn't speak with Sissi; the contacts occurred at a lower level.

The Israeli message to Egypt was that the resolution was not in keeping with the good relations and security cooperation between the countries and would do great harm to Israel.

Another channel operated by Israel was with President-elect Trump.

Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer and Kellyanne Conway at Trump Tower, November 17, 2016.
MIKE SEGAR/REUTERS

Israel's Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer, and other Israelis, approached Trumps' senior advisers, asking them to publish a statement against the Egyptian move. Trump subsequently tweeted, calling on Obama to cast a veto against the resolution. If the resolution was adopted by the Security Council, Trump said, it would be "unfair toward Israelis and will place Israel at a disadvantage in future negotiations."

Dermer even tweeted that Israel appreciates Trump's "clear and unequivocal call" to veto what he called an "anti-Israeli" resolution at the UN.

On Thursday afternoon, Netanyahu announced a special meeting of the security cabinet. Before the cabinet could meet however, Egypt announced that they would ask for the resolution to be postponed by at least a day in order to confer with the foreign ministers of the Arab League.

The immediate result of the announcement was the cancellation of Kerry's planned speech, which the State Department spokesman said concerned Kerry's vision regarding the conflict. The speech would be given at another time, he said.

Netanyahu spoke with Kerry by phone just after the security cabinet meeting and, according to Egyptian media, Trump spoke with Sissi after Egypt announced the postponement of the vote.

The Arab League met in Cairo Thursday evening to decide whether a new date should be set for a Security Council vote. Western diplomats said that the postponement could potentially lead to the resolution fizzling out entirely.