According to this report, President Obama “personally directed Friday that the U.S. abstain from a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlement activity, seeing the escalation of settlement building as an increasing threat to the viability of a two-state solution to the region’s problems.” Obama managed to take time out from his Hawaiian vacation to let Donald Trump know—as deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes put it—that, “There’s one president at a time.”
But that president has less than a month to go in the office, although Obama is eager to make the very most of that month:
Trump transition-team members report how Obama officials are providing them with skewed or incomplete information, as well as lectures about their duties on climate change. (No wonder Mr. Trump is bypassing those “official” intelligence briefings.) The Energy Department is refusing to provide the transition team with the names of career officials who led key programs, like those who attended U.N. climate talks.
But perhaps nothing has more underlined the Obama arrogance than his final flurry of midnight regulations…
Please read the whole thing.
But back to Obama’s actions in ordering the abstention on Israel at the UN. Obama claims this is just business as usual:
The decision to allow the resolution to pass, rather than cast a veto to block it “is consistent with long-standing, bipartisan U.S. policy” opposing Israeli settlement activity, Rhodes said.
But most people—even some of those who often support Obama—disagree. Let’s see [emphasis mine]:
In an unprecedented diplomatic rebuke of Israel, the United States abstained Friday on a United Nations Security Council resolution demanding an end to Israeli settlements, allowing the highly charged measure to pass…
The American Jewish Congress also expressed dismay with the move.
“In the strongest terms possible, the American Jewish Congress is deeply disappointed with the Obama administration for shamefully abstaining on today’s anti-Israel UN Security Council resolution,” the group said in a statement. “By the U.S. abstaining, President Obama abandoned long standing American foreign policy of vetoing one-sided resolutions against Israel at the United Nations, and in doing so, he steps away from his presidency, turning his back on the unbreakable bond with our great ally Israel.”
The Obama administration had been weighing whether to support the UN measure or abstain from voting, which would have been a break from the US’s traditional practice of shielding Israel at the UN and other international organizations.
Lindsay Graham, not ordinarily a hothead, has reacted by announcing a plan to sponsor a bill defunding the UN:
Sen. Lindsey Graham will propose a measure to pull US funding for the United Nations unless the UN Security Council repeals the resolution it passed condemning Israeli settlements.
“It’s that important to me,” he told CNN. “This is a road we haven’t gone down before. If you can’t show the American people that international organizations can be more responsible, there is going to be a break. And I am going to lead that break.”
Some say this UN resolution has merely symbolic meaning rather than any actual force. After all, the UN has been reprimanding Israel for decades now; it’s one of the UN’s favorite pastimes. But this one may be different; as Elliot Abrams writes in the Weekly Standard:
Does the resolution matter? It does. The text declares 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.” This may turn both settlers—even those in major blocs like Maale Adumim, that everyone knows Israel will keep in any peace deal—and Israeli officials into criminals in some countries, subject to prosecution there or in the International Criminal Court. The text demands “that Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem.” Now add this wording to the previous line and it means that even construction in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City is “a flagrant violation under international law.” The resolution also “calls upon all States, to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967.” This is a call to boycott products of the Golan, the West Bank, and parts of Jerusalem, and support for the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement.
Obama knows this, or he certainly should. And he also knows it is likely that Trump is going to pursue a very different foreign policy and a very different stance on Israel. So, why did Obama do it? Because he could. It was a twofer of sorts: a spit in the eye of Trump and of Israel.
[NOTE: This article goes into some of the history of UN resolutions on Israel and American votes on them (towards the end of the article). The US has not always blocked UN resolutions against Israel, but most of the unblocked resolutions have been far more specific, such as the one that condemned Israel for bombing Iran’s nuclear facility. In addition, a great deal of the history on this occurred back when it was still reasonable to think that negotiation could work and lead to a two-state solution of the conflict between Israel and Palestine. This hope effectively died in 2000.
The article also points out that until now the Obama administration has been consistently blocking “one-sided” resolutions at the UN condemning Israel. So this is very much a reversal of Obama’s own previous actions:
Under Obama, the US in 2011 used its veto power to block a similar measure to the one adopted Friday.
Back in 2011, however, Obama still had an election ahead of him. Now he doesn’t have to answer to anything or anybody.]
[ADDENDUM: The WaPo editors are uncharacteristically critical of Obama in this editorial.
See also this from Andrew C. McCarthy.]