Today, Israel summoned to Yerushalayim ambassadors representing countries that voted in favor of a U.N. Security Council resolution that harshly criticizes Israeli settlement activity, calling them an obstacle to peace.
Ambassadors of four of the five permanent Security Council members – the United Kingdom, China, France, Russia – as well as nonpermanent members with diplomatic relations with Israel – Egypt, Japan, New Zealand, Uruguay, Ukraine and Spain – were issued a sharp reprimand by Israeli Foreign Ministry officials.
The resolution, which passed Friday, declares that Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem have “no legal validity” and constitute a “flagrant violation under international law.” It also called the settlements a major obstacle to achieving the two-state solution and peace with the Palestinians.
Fourteen of the 15 members of the Security Council voted in favor of the resolution. The United States, breaking with a long-standing policy of preventing resolutions dealing with Israel, did not use its veto powers to stop the resolution’s passage, abstaining from the vote instead.
The U.S. ambassador to Israel, Daniel Shapiro, was not summoned to Jerusalem because the United States did not vote in favor of the resolution, Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said.
The summons were ordered by Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, who is also the country’s foreign minister, as part of a series of diplomatic measures announced since the resolution was adopted.
On Friday, Netanyahu recalled Israel’s ambassadors to New Zealand and Senegal, canceled scheduled trips to Israel by the Senegalese foreign minister and Ukraine’s prime minister. He also said that Israeli aid to Senegal would be canceled and that contributions Israel makes to five U.N. agencies would be halted.
In a cabinet meeting Sunday, Netanyahu told his ministers that he shared their feelings of anger and frustration at the U.N. adopting a resolution hostile to Israel.
And he laid blame for the resolution squarely on the shoulders of President Barack Obama.
“I have no doubt that the Obama administration initiated it, stood behind it and coordinated the wording,” Netanyahu said. He said the resolution contradicted a U.S. policy and a commitment made by Obama in 2011 not to try to impose the terms of a final status agreement on Israel.
“Over decades, American administrations and Israeli governments had disagreed about settlements, but we agreed that the Security Council was not the place to resolve this issue,” he said. “As I told John Kerry on Thursday, friends don’t take friends to the Security Council.”
Netanyahu’s anger was matched by more militant voices in his right-wing government.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the ultranationalist Jewish Home party, held a news conference at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, one of Judaism’s holiest sites, saying the city has been the eternal capital of Jews for 3,000 years.
He said that in response to the resolution, Israel should evaluate its approach to the 1994 Oslo Accords, which sets out the plan of two states, one of Israelis and one for Palestinians. He said that Israel should instead impose sovereignty on land it captured after the 1967 war. He also urged the government to ramp up construction in Israeli settlements, built on land the Palestinians hope to use for a state.
Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, head of the Yisrael Beitenu faction, announced Sunday that he was suspending all non-security-related communication with the Palestinian Authority in wake of the U.N. vote.
“The behavior of the prime minister and other ministers reflects the hysteria in Israel every time there is something that contradicts this government’s policy,” said Dan Miodownik, a professor of political science and international relations at Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Miodownik said that what is more interesting is what was not said.
“Israel has not recalled its ambassadors in Russian and China and even though Israel has been growing ties with Putin, it is blaming the U.S. for abstaining, and has no words about Russia or China who supported the resolution,” he said.
Miodownik said that Netanyahu’s actions were for the most part hollow, with the main goal of trying to placate Israel’s right wing, which advocates for the Israeli settlement enterprise.
About 400,000 Jewish settlers live on 125 settlements and 100 outposts in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Over the past six months, Israel has announced plans to add hundreds of units to existing settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, each time drawing rebuke from the White House.
More recently, right-wing voices in Netanyahu’s government have been pushing legislation to legalize settlements built on privately owned Palestinian land, a step also frowned upon by the Obama administration.
The U.S. abstention Friday was a rare rebuke to Israel, and it reflected mounting frustration in the Obama administration over settlement growth that the United States, as well as many others in the international community, considers an obstacle to peace.
With Obama’s time in office due to end in under a month, his decision not to veto was a last-minute symbolic statement of that displeasure and a sense of exasperation that the time has come for two states to be carved out of the contested land.
The resolution had initially been brought Thursday by the Egyptians but was withdrawn after President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi spoke with President-elect Donald Trump, who had been approached by worried Israeli officials.
New Zealand, Malaysia, Venezuela and Senegal stepped in and sponsored their own settlements resolution instead.
A White House official, speaking on the condition of anonymity about the sensitive internal discussions, said the Security Council vote was preceded by months of back-and-forth discussions about numerous draft resolutions. And only on Friday morning did Obama authorize an abstention.
In a strongly worded statement Friday, Netanyahu said the Obama administration had “not only failed to protect Israel against this gang-up at the U.N., it has colluded with it behind the scenes.”
He also stated clearly that he looked forward to working with Trump “to negate the harmful effects of this absurd resolution.”
“Netanyahu’s self-righteousness that this resolution is going to be changed, or reversed by Trump is totally unfounded, if he really thinks it can then he is either panicking or plainly misleading,” said Alon Pinkas, a former diplomat and adviser to Israeli prime ministers.
Pinkas said the resolution was unlikely to have any immediate consequences but that it would a precedent on Israel and its settlements.
(c) 2016 The Washington Post · Ruth Eglash