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UN Vote: World Beginning to Rescue Israel From Itself

Santa Obama delivered a wonderful Christmas present to Israel when the United States opted not to veto Friday’s United Nation Security Council vote condemning settlement policy.

Amir Oren
Amir Oren
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Obama during a news conference at the White House, Washington, December 16, 2016.
Obama during a news conference at the White House, Washington, December 16, 2016.Credit: JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS
Amir Oren
Amir Oren

Friday’s UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel’s settlement policies may not result in immediate changes on the ground, but it does signal that the international community has not changed its expectations that any future peace agreement will involve an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank.

Santa Obama delivered a wonderful Christmas present to Israel when the United States opted not to veto Friday’s United Nation Security Council vote condemning settlement policy.

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The passage of the resolution won’t result in the immediate dismantling of any West Bank settlements, but the world is beginning to come to the rescue and try to save Israeli from itself.

And the passage of the resolution by a vote of 14 in favor with one abstention – that of the United States -- shows that finally the United Nations is uniting. Among the 15 votes cast, that American abstention, instead of a veto, was the most important vote cast.

Read more on the Security Council resolution: It's the settlements, stupid: UN failure is entirely Netanyahu's / Analysis | 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?

About a year ago a document from Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot spelling out IDF strategy warned of worrying trends in the West. Support for the use of military force, it warned, would be more difficult to obtain and more selective and limited than in the past when it comes to maintaining Israeli control in the territories, in contrast to the defense of Israel proper.

The concerns that the IDF expressed are coming to fruition. Even without sanctions from the United Nations, European countries can now rely on Friday’s resolution, Resolution 2334, to justify disrupting Israeli wartime efforts such as delaying weapons shipments from their ports or airspace.

The failure of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s policy with regard to the Security Council Resolution is crystal clear.

Forty-nine years and one month after the post-Six-Day War adoption of Resolution 242, which called for an exchange of territory for peace, the world, that same world, is actually not against Israel. It remains in our favor but against the millstone around our necks.

The international community is signaling that no creation of purported facts on the ground, in the form of settlement construction, will change expectations of an Israeli withdrawal as part of a peace agreement.

The settlements may be part of the domestic Israeli rules of the game, but they have no sway anywhere else in the world. Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights have not received any international support.

By the same token, the Knesset could legislate that there are 25 hours in a day, and it would have the same effect for the rest of the world.

Residents of West Bank Jewish settlements such as Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Supreme Court Justice Noam Sohlberg may have achieved the highest ranks of public office in Israel, but as the rest of the world sees it, these people are accessories to a violation of international norms.

As the government faces the relocation of residents of the unauthorized outpost of Amona, how will it now build alternative West Bank housing for them when any settlement construction has now been deemed as a violation of Friday’s UN Security Council resolution?

On the tactical level as well, the UN vote is a resounding defeat for the Israel government, as Netanyahu earns himself a place of infamy in the diplomatic hall of fame. This saga will become a lesson that new recruits to the Israeli foreign service will have to study in the context of how not to conduct foreign policy.

Netanyahu's frequent digs at the Democratic Party in the United States and President Barack Obama in particular will be held against him in the long term, and shall be dredged up at the appropriate time.

Netanyahu has been playing a diplomatic chess game recently with Obama that will end in a checkmate. Netanyahu scored a temporary and illusory victory on Thursday when he lobbied to get the vote on the resolution deferred. Obama left it up to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi to decide whether his country would have the resolution put to a vote.

Netanyahu outflanked him with the help of President-elect Donald Trump, who put pressure on Sissi. The Egyptian president held back for a day, got a commitment from Trump to reexamine the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but then faced the refusal of four other Security Council member states to go back on the plan.

Netanyahu made Trump look helpless, in practice extracting a promise for a more balanced policy than Trump's proposed move of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, followed by his choice of settlement advocate David Friedman as ambassador to Israel.

With his impulses and ignorance, Trump, a man who is dangerous to world peace and stability, sounded over the weekend like a trader hoarding his wares – the settlements in this case – only as a bargaining chip, for that major deal in the future in which he will forgo them for the right price. For the time being, however, Trump is the one barking while Obama is biting.

Netanyahu’s man in Washington, that Florida Republican turned Israeli ambassador, Ron Dermer, couldn’t restrain himself until January 20 and was already celebrating Trump’s victory and Hillary Clinton’s defeat.

In fact, the prime minister’s chief representatives in the United States, Dermer, UN ambassador Danny Danon and Israeli Consul General in New York Dani Dayan are all right-wing settlement supporters.

They don’t reflect the aspirations of Israelis for a peace compromise. They also haven’t had the leverage to lobby the administration to assist countries that in the past admired Israel’s power on Capitol Hill.

Israel under Netanyahu has been portrayed as an empty vessel. In one of his moments of euphoria amid the fear, Netanyahu boasted that he always gets what he wants.

But he wraps up his eight years with Obama with a resounding 0-2 loss in the championships against both Iran and Palestine. This is the same Netanyahu who following his oratory record as Israel’s ambassador to the UN took the Likud by storm, as the party was convinced that his Boston-Philadelphia-accented turns of phrase would charm the world.

Those were the years of the administration of Ronald Reagan and is highly pro-Israel secretary of state, George Shultz. If we are to believe the PR, they were Bibi’s best friends.

But as soon as Reagan’s vice president, George H.W. Bush, was elected president, and before he was even sworn in, Reagan and Shultz launched a dialogue with Palestine Liberation Organization chairman Yasser Arafat.

So much for appearances.

Netanyahu has had a wealth of diplomatic experience in the course of his career of thus far, 11 years as prime minister. But he has also wrecked what little was left of the Foreign Ministry. And the combination of foolish policy and poor management are among the signs of collapse of Netanyahu’s diplomatic infrastructure.

Maybe Friedman, the American ambassador-designate, who was Trump’s personal bankruptcy lawyer, can provide him with some advice.

Obama assumed office with a demand for an Israeli settlement construction freeze. Netanyahu was afraid of the new president and gave in. Obama is ending his presidency in similar fashion. As expected, the president waited until after the U.S. election.

It would be easy to imagine what would have happened if the steps at the Security Council had been taken in September or October and had been followed by Clinton’s loss to Trump.

In more creative times under David Ben-Gurion, Shimon Peres, Levi Eshkol and Yitzhak Rabin, the interregnum between the election of a new leader and his taking office provided an opportunity, not only in the United States.

Peres, as Ben-Gurion’s emissary, obtained outgoing French Prime Minister Maurice Bourgès-Maunoury’s agreement to supply Israel with the nuclear reactor at Dimona.

As Eshkol’s representative in the transitional period between the end of Lyndon Johnson’s presidency and the beginning of Richard Nixon’s, Rabin secured Phantom jets for Israel without an Israeli commitment to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

In Netanyahu’s case, however, he's a hawk who has little to show for himself.

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