Top US Jewish Leader: Obama Administration Might Take ‘Further Damaging Step’ Against Israel Before Trump Inauguration
After the passage of an anti-settlement UN Security Council resolution last week, it is possible the Obama administration will take a “further damaging step” against Israel before President-elect Donald Trump takes office next month, a top US Jewish leader told The Algemeiner on Tuesday.
“We need to prepare for every option,” Malcolm Hoenlein — the executive vice chairman and CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations — said.
Of particular concern, Hoenlein noted, is an upcoming French-sponsored international conference on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process — set to be held in Paris on Jan. 15.
“That could produce a document that could then be brought to the Security Council for an immediate vote,” Hoenlein cautioned. “There could also be a Quartet meeting in Paris or elsewhere and they could come up with a framework or plan that could be presented to the Security Council. The US had opposed the French initiative, but may now embrace it. In addition, Sweden is taking the chair of the Security Council [on Jan. 1] and has said repeatedly that it wanted to pass the [anti-settlement] resolution during its tenure, and it may seek to pass an additional one.”
“I don’t believe there’ll be a resolution creating a Palestinian state, but there could be one laying out the parameters of what an agreement would look like,” Hoenlein went on to say. “This would further preempt the chance for any real direct negotiations.”
Furthermore, Hoenlein said, US Secretary of State John Kerry is expected deliver a speech on the Israeli-Palestinian issue in the near future and “there could also be an address by the president laying out his record on Israel and his view of an agreement.”
In terms of thwarting any such potential moves, Hoenlein said, “Messages from members of Congress about the price the UN will pay are important. Also, I think the across-the-board response [to last week’s resolution], with many Democratic senators expressing themselves in very strong ways, sent a powerful message to the Obama administration about any additional steps.”
Trump, Hoenlein pointed out, “has weighed in, but I hope he will send strong messages or at least put down markers, so that countries will think twice about the price that would be paid for continued provocations. This resolution, in fact, limits the prospects for his administration.”
Looking ahead to the post-Obama era, Hoenlein said, “We can’t rescind the resolution, but we have to work to, for instance, stop the Palestinians from going to the International Criminal Court, which the US has helped prevent in the past. We have to try to limit the damage until other measures can be considered that would counteract the resolution.”
“There are a lot of other things being contemplated, whether it’s country-specific actions or things of a more general nature, that have to be carefully considered, and we have to think both about the impact and the backlash,” he continued. “This is not something you just rush into. It shouldn’t be an emotional response.”
Also, Hoenlein stated, “We need to reiterate the facts and do much more to assert the legitimacy of Israel’s position.”
Recalling last week’s events, Hoenlein said, “We had heard in the days before [the vote] that there was a possibility of a US abstention and increasingly it became a likelihood, although we worked until the last minute for that not to be the case. I can tell you that some key members of the administration involved in foreign affairs, were not clued in and did not know Friday morning what the decision would be. This was kept within a very closed circle, primarily in the White House around President Obama. However, Secretary Kerry is reported to have promoted the resolution for some time.”
“The ramifications of this will be with us for a long time,” Hoenlein emphasized. “This could be on par with the ‘Zionism is racism’ resolution, but this is in the Security Council, not the General Assembly. It really carries potentially serious implications.”
The US abstention, according to Hoenlein, marked a “betrayal of the fundamentals of the special relationship and President Obama’s own promises he made during his tenure including that he would protect Israel at the UN and not leave it isolated. This will tarnish President Obama’s legacy. For those who felt all along that he was hostile to Israel, this will be seen as vindicating their view, and for many others who did not share that outlook, they are now very critical.”
Obama’s presidency, Hoenlein added, will be “book ended by the unfortunate, misinformed and even counterproductive speech in Cairo and the vote at the UN.”
Regarding the reaction of American Jews to the Security Council vote, Hoenlein said, “People are frustrated and many are angry. These feelings are very widespread in the Jewish community, probably much more than the Obama administration anticipated. It was such a public affront and went so far that even those who were not generally settlement supporters came out against the resolution.”
With 2016 coming to an end and Inauguration Day approaching, Hoenlein said, “The most pressing issue facing all of us is still Iran and its growing regional aggressiveness and expanding footprint. It remains a threat to Israel, the entire region and the whole world.”