Analysis

It's the Settlements, Stupid: Security Council Failure Is Entirely Netanyahu's

The U.S. warned Netanyahu for eight years that his policy would have a price, but he preferred pacifying the settler lobby instead of making a plan of action. He has only himself to blame.

Netanyahu speaks during his annual end-of-year address to foreign journalists in Jerusalem on December 20, 2016.
GIL COHEN-MAGEN/AFP

>> UPDATE: U.S. ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, has been summoned for a meeting with Netanyahu over the UN settlements vote (Details here)

Only an hour after the United Nations Security Council vote on Friday, President Barack Obama’s senior adviser Ben Rhodes held a conference call with journalists during which he explained why the United States had not vetoed the resolution on the settlements. Rhodes answered questions for an hour, but his remarks could be summarized as follows: We warned Netanyahu for eight years that this is what would happen. He didn’t listen; now he has only himself to blame.

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Rhodes’ description is precise. The fact that the U.S. abstained should surprise no one, especially not Israel’s prime minister. The old cliché about the handwriting on the wall has never been truer. In fact, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself is the one who plastered it on the wall with his actions in recent years and especially in recent months. UN Security Council Resolution 2334 is his personal failure.

Since the last elections, and especially over the past year, Netanyahu’s government has led a policy of significantly speeding up construction in the settlements, demolishing Palestinian houses in Area C and authorizing illegal settlements. The saga around the evacuation of Amona and the law known as the “Regularization Law” is the height of this trend. Netanyahu, together with Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, have done everything they could to push Obama to the Security Council.

Read more on the Security Council resolution: Obama, where have you been for 8 wasted years? / Analysis | Why the Palestinians are jubilant and Israel is spooked / Analysis | Security Council punch knocks Netanyahu down from hubris to humiliation / Analysis | What will the immediate ramifications of the UN resolution be?

Palestinian UN envoy Riyad H. Mansour greets Spanish envoy Roman Oyarzun Marchesi, president of the Security Council for December, ahead of the December 23, 2016, vote on Israeli settlements.
Manuel Elias, AFP / UN

For all of those months, the international community was not at all indifferent. The report of the Quartet on Middle East peace, released in July, warned of the very points that were included in the Security Council resolution. Since then, almost weekly, the U.S. State Department and foreign ministries of the Western powers have released ever-harsher condemnations of the Israeli government’s settlement policy, warning that it threatened to bury the two-state solution. Every month the Security Council held a meeting in which it called on representatives of many countries to make decisions regarding the settlements.

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Netanyahu knew all this. He received a number of classified documents from the Foreign Ministry and the National Security Council warning of a UN Security Council resolution that would not be vetoed by the U.S. He himself stated this publicly and in closed discussions dozens of times over the past few months, and mentioned it from the UN rostrum in September. Netanyahu also knows full well how unstable his relations with Obama are and how little his ability is to influence Obama’s decisions.

Instead of making a plan of action, Netanyahu busied himself with Amona, Amona and more Amona. Instead of changing policy to prevent a diplomatic downfall and international damage to Israel, Netanyahu preferred to pacify the settler lobby so he could survive politically. He knew there would be a price for his actions, but acted like everything was fine. A person who knows all this and continues with the same policy suffers from a lack of judgement and responsibility, or is simply a compulsive gambler.

Only on Wednesday did Netanyahu make an arrogant appearance on his private Facebook page. Facing the cameras, the prime minister of Israel outdid himself in self-praise, informing everyone watching that Israel’s international standing had never been better. Forty-eight hours later it turned out that Netanyahu’s words were divorced from reality.

Netanyahu is right that Israel is being courted by many countries, but he is wrong and misleading with regard to how heavily 50 years of occupation weigh on Israel. A solid majority of the countries that voted for the UN Security Council resolution are not anti-Israeli or anti-Semitic. The message of their vote was simple: It’s the settlements, stupid.

The Security Council resolution reveals once again how clear and sharp international consensus is against the settlements. It’s not just Obama. The right-wing government of Britain under Prime Minister Theresa May and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson voted for it. So did the right-wing governments of Spain and Russia, under Netanyahu’s good friend President Vladimir Putin, and China, which Bennett and other ministers say doesn’t care about the Palestinians but only about Israeli high-tech, and New Zealand, the head of whose right-wing government, Bill English, attacked his country’s foreign minister in 2003 for embracing Yasser Arafat.

The prime minister is certainly taking comfort in the fact that he managed to bring around to his side the person who in another month will be president of the U.S. It is not certain this is something for him to be proud of. Netanyahu took Donald Trump for a ride and caused him his first diplomatic failure. Other than the president of Egypt, no other leader of a country on the Security Council took Trump into consideration.

After this episode, Netanyahu owes Trump even before the latter takes office. He owes him for losing. And Trump doesn’t like to lose. The president-elect’s response is also interesting: Trump did not assail the resolution, nor did he defend the settlements; he made do with a fairly laconic statement.

Before and after the vote, the prime minister let loose with a campaign of attacks on Obama that seemed like fake news on a delusional right-wing website in the U.S. The most bizarre accusation was that Obama was part of a conspiracy with the Palestinians and had in fact abandoned Israel and stabbed it in the back. Yes, the same Obama who just a few weeks ago gave Israel $38 billion in security aid. Netanyahu doesn’t dare say even one tenth of such things about Putin, May or Chinese President Xi Jinping. There are many precedents for American presidents who abstained on resolutions concerning Israel in the UN. There is no precedent for the way Netanyahu acted toward Obama.

Netanyahu can try to blame Obama, Mahmoud Abbas, the left and even the weather or the mufti for the UN Security Council resolution. But that will not erase Friday’s diplomatic rout. In the end, it happened on Netanyahu’s watch.

It is to such incidents that former Prime Minister and Defense Minister Ehud Barak was referring when he talked about a diplomatic tsunami. Barak also summarized it well on his Twitter account over the weekend. “Unprecedented failure in the Security Council. The prime minister must fire his foreign minister.”