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December 26, 2016 11:20 am

US Abstention at the UN Security Council: An Overview

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President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem during Obama's visit to Israel in 2013. Photo: Kobi Gideon/GPO via Getty Images.

President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem during Obama’s visit to Israel in 2013. Photo: Kobi Gideon/GPO via Getty Images. — The United States’ abstention at Friday’s United Nations Security Council vote on a resolution condemning Israeli construction beyond the 1967 lines, has left many speculating as to how the American decision not to veto came to pass.

The resolution was put forward by four non-permanent Security Council members — New Zealand, Malaysia, Venezuela and Senegal — just a day after Egypt, which had originally sponsored the resolution, withdrew under pressure from President-elect Donald Trump and Israel. Both Trump and Israel called on the Obama administration to veto the resolution that demands Israel “immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the ‘occupied’ Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem,” and puts forth that such construction has “no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law.”

While the resolution’s passage is likely to do little to sway Israeli policies, the decision not to veto by President Barack Obama, who has had a tenuous and sometimes hostile relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the last eight years, marks a substantial break from the longstanding American policy of defending Israel against one-sided resolutions criticizing the Jewish state at the United Nations.

In her statement to the Security Council, US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power framed America’s decision to abstain from the vote as consistent with long-held bipartisan US policy.

“This resolution reflects trends that will permanent destroy the two-state solution if they continue on their current course,” Power said. “Our vote today does not in any way diminish the United States’s steadfast and unparalleled commitment to the security of Israel.”

Prior to the vote, a senior Israeli official accused the US of working with the Palestinians to “cook up” the “extreme anti-Israel resolution behind Israel’s back.”

According to Israel’s Channel 2, Palestinian and Egyptian officials met with officials from the US State Department earlier this month, which is where Israeli officials believe the decision to push through the resolution took place.

Yet, America has denied these allegations, with an unnamed US official telling Reuters, “Contrary to some claims, the administration was not involved in formulating the resolution nor have we promoted it.” Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, has made similar comments.

After the vote, Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon harshly criticized the US decision to abstain, saying, “Neither the Security Council nor UNESCO can sever the tie between the people of Israel and the land of Israel.” Danon’s reference to UNESCO relates to the UN cultural body’s passage of two resolutions in October that denied the Jewish and Christian ties to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount.

Danon added, “It was to be expected that Israel’s greatest ally would act in accordance with the values that we share and that they would have vetoed this disgraceful resolution. I have no doubt that the new US administration and the incoming UN secretary-general will usher in a new era in terms of the UN’s relationship with Israel.”

Even top Democrats slammed the decision by their own party’s president.

“Whatever one’s views are on settlements, the UN is the wrong forum to settle these issues,” said Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). “The UN has been a fervently anti-Israel body since the days of ‘Zionism is racism’ and, unfortunately, that fervor has never diminished. Knowing this, past administrations — both Democrat and Republican — have protected Israel from the vagaries of this biased institution. Unfortunately, this administration has not followed in that path and its actions will move us further from peace in the Middle East.”

American Jewish organizations were also distraught over the White House’s decision not to nix the anti-settlement resolution.

“The administration’s decision, for the first time in eight years, not to block an anti-Israel measure at the UN Security Council is profoundly disturbing,” said AJC CEO David Harris.

Stephen M. Greenberg and Malcolm Hoenlein, leaders of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, expressed their “deep disappointment” in the Obama administration.

“There is no justification or explanation that validates the United States’s failure to veto the one-sided, offensive resolution adopted by the Security Council today,” Greenberg and Hoenlein said. “The United States vote will be seen as a betrayal of the fundamentals of the special relationship that will nevertheless continue to mark the close ties between the peoples of the two countries.”

Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, called Obama’s move a “‘lame duck’ plan to knife Israel in the back at the UN.” The resolution, he said, “pushes racist ‘Judenrein’ (no Jews allowed to live here) policies.”

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) lobby, which is known for its staunchly bipartisan approach, said it is “particularly regrettable, in his last month in office, that the president has taken an action at odds with the bipartisan consensus in Congress and America’s long history of standing with Israel at the United Nations. AIPAC expresses its appreciation to President-elect Trump and the many Democratic and Republican Members of Congress who urged a veto of this resolution.”

After Egypt’s initial drafting of the UN resolution, Israel had reportedly asked for Trump’s support on the issue after failing to persuade the Obama administration. CNN quoted a senior Israeli official as saying that his government “implored the White House not to go ahead [with allowing the resolution to pass] and told them that if they did, we would have no choice but to reach out to President-elect Trump.”

Some liberal Jewish groups, such as J Street and Ameinu, have voiced their support for the US decision to abstain, with J Street saying that while it opposes “one-sided” UN resolution, the measure in question “is not one-sided.”

“In fact, it explicitly calls on the parties to stop taking actions that undermine the chances of a two-state solution and to re-enter negotiations aimed at achieving peace,” J Street said.

Trump, meanwhile, took to Twitter after Friday’s vote to foreshadow his administration’s future policy on the issue.

“As to the UN,” tweeted the president-elect, “things will be different after Jan. 20th.”

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