A Wake-up Call at the United Nations

It is possible to say that Netanyahu went to sleep with Donald Trump - and woke up with Barack Obama.

U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talk during the funeral of former Israeli President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem on Friday, Sept. 30, 2016.
Menahem Kahana, Pool via AP

The achievement claimed by certain officials in Israel at the last-minute postponement of Egypt’s presentation of its draft resolution to the United Nations Security Council should not blur the fact that it was a wake-up call for the current Israeli government.

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s emergency efforts to stop the move – which proposed a halt to West Bank settlement, the definition of the settlements as illegal and a distinction between the settlements and Israel – while in the background hovered a concrete threat that America might abstain from using its veto, hinted that Israel’s leaders were surprised by the developments.

It is no surprise that Israel was caught unprepared: After the euphoria that the identity of the new American ambassador has created in the right wing in Israel, the promises to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and the general forecasts of an administration that supports the settlements, it is possible to say that Netanyahu went to sleep with Donald Trump - and woke up with Barack Obama.

On the way to this collision, Israel – and Netanyahu, especially – made a series of tactical mistakes and one large strategic mistake: Settlement in an occupied territory with the intention of annexing it, in violation of international law and the decisions of the UN Security Council.

Among the tactical mistakes, the latest was, of course, the the process of legislating the “expropriation law,” the meaning of which is the anchoring of the occupation in law. This law, alongside the extremist statements in Israel regarding the expected approach of the Trump administration to the conflict, seem to have been the main reason that the international community has responded now.

Obama has never hidden from Netanyahu his demand that construction of the settlements be frozen, so that the situation in the occupied territories will not be irreversible by the time peace negotiations are held. Netanyahu even gave his partial agreement to the demand for a while, though it subsequently gave way to what was seen as unforgiveable behavior - he spoke against Obama’s position in Congress and the UN, the same stage on which he now fears he will suffer a defeat from the outgoing American president.

It appears that the danger has been removed from the agenda for now, but Israel needs to listen to the voices coming from the UN. With no connection to the veto question and the level of support for the settlements from any specific American president, Israel must begin marching on a more moral path. It must stop the settlements and create a convenient foundation for renewal of negotiations with the Palestinians. There is no real alternative.