The Obama Administration on Friday finally allowed the UN Security Council to call on Israel to halt its settlement expansion on Friday. The resolution essentially re-states U.S. policy that settlement activity in the West Bank is illegal and counterproductive, and that Israel’s security must be protected.
The U.S. did not support the resolution, but it did not utilize its veto power either.
In a press call Friday afternoon, White House Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes explained that the White House abstained on the resolution because it “expresses a consensus international view on Israeli settlement activity.”
“We thought that we could not in good conscience veto a resolution that expressed concerns about the very trends that are eroding,” Rhodes explained. “A two-state solution.”
The resolution is toothless — it does not, for example, authorize any form of sanctions to compel Israel to respect international law. Yet prior to its passage, a long list of both Democrats and Republicans called on the administration to veto it, including President-elect Donald Trump, New York’s Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, and Wisconsin-based House Speaker Paul Ryan:
The resolution being considered at the United Nations Security Council regarding Israel should be vetoed….cont: https://t.co/s8rXKKZNF1
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 22, 2016
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) December 23, 2016
This anti-Israel UN resolution will undermine peace and mutual cooperation. The administration should veto it. https://t.co/TFNipww0XL
— Paul Ryan (@SpeakerRyan) December 23, 2016
The administration’s abstention reflects a larger reality: President Obama did more to shield Israel from international pressure at the United Nations than any of his predecessors.
This was the only Security Council resolution calling on Israel to respect international law that Obama ever refused to veto. Under George W. Bush, six similar resolutions were allowed through. Under H.W. Bush, nine resolutions critical of Israel were allowed through.
At the same time, Obama awarded Israel with its largest military aid package ever — signing a memorandum of understanding in September that would give it $38 billion over 10 years.
The pressure to veto a toothless resolution shows how constricted U.S. policy on Israel-Palestine has become in recent years, even though the American public appears to favor tougher UN action on the issue. A recent Brookings poll finds that nearly two-thirds of Americans favor UN resolutions demanding a halt to settlements and that a majority of self-identified Democrats support some form of sanctions towards Israel to bring about peace.
Meanwhile, Israel has elected one of its most right-wing governments in history — with a set of cabinet ministers who openly disdain the two-state solution and plan to escalate settlement building. The president-elect plans to appoint an ambassador to Israel who favors continued expansion on Palestinian land and actually helped fund settlement work as a private citizen.
The U.S. could use its economic, military, and diplomatic ties as leverage to halt settlement expansion and demand that Israel respect the human rights of Palestinians. But in a political system where politicians from both major parties — seeking favor from megadonors who demand a stridently pro-Israel policy — react in outrage to simply asking Israel to respect international law, such a solution remains off the table.
Just ask Sheldon Adelson — the pro-Israel casino magnate who helped bankroll Trump.