Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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Netanyahu, Sisi, Obama and the United Nations Resolution on Israeli Settlements

by Elliott Abrams
December 22, 2016


The United Nations Security Council was scheduled to vote today (Thursday, December 22) on an Egyptian-sponsored resolution on Israeli settlement activity.

Egypt, the Arab representative on the Security Council right now, pulled the resolution this morning, so there will be no vote. There are several mysteries here, including why Egypt did that, and how President Obama planned to vote: yes, abstain, or veto.

First, it’s important to realize just how bad the resolution was. Here’s part: The Security Council–

■ “Reaffirms 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 and a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-state solution.”

■ “Reiterates its demand that Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem.”

■ “Calls upon all States, to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967.”

Why is this so bad? The first paragraph above calls all settlement activity illegal under international law. That could have an impact in Europe and elsewhere in how Israeli settlers and officials are treated. Are they all criminals? Can they be brought before the International Criminal Court? Prosecuted in local courts?

The second paragraph refers to East Jerusalem, and suggests that all Israeli housing construction must stop–even including construction in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. That’s madness.

The third paragraph above, treating everything beyond the old “Green Line” or 1949 armistice line as illegal and demanding that all states do so, begs for boycotts. It logically means that any product from East Jerusalem, the Golan, or the West Bank be boycotted and prevented from being sold.

So it would be a terrible, unfair, unbalanced resolution and one with the potential to damage Israel. That’s one reason an American veto should have been automatic–but it wasn’t. The Obama administration refused to say whether it would veto, and I’ve been told by some well-informed journalists that it would not have vetoed. This would have been Mr. Obama’s parting shot after eight years of tension with Israel. Refusal to veto would also have violated decades of American policy that calls for direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations as the only way forward to peace.

The President-Elect recognized this, and Mr. Trump said

The resolution being considered at the United Nations Security Council regarding Israel should be vetoed. As the United States has long maintained, peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians will only come through direct negotiations between the parties and not through the imposition of terms by the United Nations. This puts Israel in a very poor negotiating position and is extremely unfair to all Israelis.

I had actually thought Mr. Obama would veto, because a refusal to do so would certainly do damage to his party–a party that has suffered electoral defeats at the congressional and state level throughout his presidency. But if the information I received was right, he was more interested in departing with another smack at Israel.

The remaining question is why President Sisi withdrew the resolution. Press reports all say it was Israeli pressure, which is a negative way of saying he did so because he values Egyptian-Israeli bilateral relations and was asked to pull the resolution by Prime Minister Netanyahu. That’s a good thing; the United States should itself value cooperative Israeli-Egyptian relations. Others have suggested that Sisi wanted to avoid a confrontation with the incoming Trump administration, which was clearly against this text. That’s also a good thing.

But note this: none of the news stories suggest the Egyptians acted because of the Obama administration. Just as with the Russian-Turkish-Iranian meeting to discuss Syria (The New York Times’s story began “Russia, Iran, and Turkey met in Moscow on Tuesday to work toward a political accord to end Syria’s nearly six-year war, leaving the United States on the sidelines….”), the Obama administration apparently played no role in Egypt’s decisions. In large part this is because the Obama administration has left friends confused as its objectives and foes without fear of consequences for opposing the United States. Defenders of the administration will say it’s just lame duck status that explains the lack of concern for the wishes of the White House, but I can’t agree. At the very end of the George W. Bush administration, there was a vigorous negotiation in the Security Council over a resolution on the fighting in Gaza, and the United States was at the center of it–right up into January, 2009. Now it’s December, 2016 and we are being ignored. That’s the result of eight years of policy choices, not lame duck status.



Post a Comment 10 Comments

  • Posted by hussein

    The United States has said all along that continued Israeli settlement building has no legitimacy and the world community considers that it is illegal under international law.
    Here one more time with fancy footwork, Israel has and Zionists has been able to hide the truth and kept it from emerging but let it be known that they can not run away forever from the truth.

  • Posted by Robert

    Should the USA not veto this, the USA should immediately move its embassy to Jerusalem and ask Israel permission to establish a US military presence (airbase) in Israel.

  • Posted by L. Edelstein

    Do Obama’s and Kerry’s personal disdain for the leader of an ally, justify delivering a parting shot and taking governmental action against the ally regardless of the implications for the relations between the two countries — and all other countries, Arab and non-Arab, in the region? Does the outgoing (in four weeks) US president believe that his personal pique is more important than the future of the “peace process? — and that such an action will encourage the Palestinian Authority and the Hamas thugs in Gaza to sit down with Israel to negotiate? Obama’s Olympian feelings of hatred for Netanyahu serve neither the best interests of Israel — nor the best interests of the United States and the middle east.

  • Posted by Jim

    Just Trump catering to his anti-semite base. /sarcasm tag should not be necessary, but obviously is.

  • Posted by Jim

    I’m a goy, but I cannot for life of me understand why any Jew would vote for Obama, ever, or any Democrat after this.

  • Posted by C Couble

    Funny the author does not talk about settler terrorism and army violence against civilians to maintain this occupation

  • Posted by hussein

    In support of C.Couble:
    Ask to author If an immigrant with a gun take over by forcing the him out of his property, land or farm and the author has no legal recourse whatsoever how he would feel? Ask better yet if those Zionists have any ability for empathy.

  • Posted by John Pinckney

    The resolution essentially condemns Israel for winning the 1967 war. A war started by the Arabs. If the Arabs won they would have driven the Jews into the sea.

  • Posted by D'Allessandro

    Nothing that the Obama administration does against Israel should surprise anyone. Have we forgotten that he attended for over twenty years the Reverend’s Jeremiah Wright Trinity United Church of Christ where vitriolic anti-Zionist sermons, not to mention racist and anti-American too, were the staple servings every Sunday?

    No one who is not a disciple of the dogma being spewed can listen to inflammatory tirades against your own country and Israel for two decades without agreeing to the words being spoken. If we look at the current president’s slanted verbiage toward the land of Abraham within the last eight years it is clear that he was repeating his former pastor’s view. That the mainstream media chose to ignore all the evidence that pointed to a biased stance is unfortunate but it shouldn’t astonish at this late stage of his White House tenure.

  • Posted by joseph ber md

    Why the hullabaloo over the settlements? Under UN Resolution 242 Israel has the right in a final treaty to safe and secure borders, which everyone forgets, and the settlements are the first line of defense against Arab and Palestinian invasion.
    So if their defenses are down, who would come to Israel’s aid in an attack-Senegal? Malaysia? Israel could be cut in half in hours, especially if the attacks were sponsored by Iran.
    And why the priority of this resolution over the fact that Hamas now has hundreds of cross border tunnels into Israel. Speaking of increasing terrorism, won’t this now give this predictable a greater justification to destroy the Jewish state?
    Bottom line, any real estate built in potential Palestinian areas would later in a final become part of Palestine, and people living in these areas would simply have to chose whether to continue there or move back to Israel. (Aren’t Arab citizens, for that matter) building in Israel?
    So this whole issue is a faint simply clearly points to what is really going on: Palestinians have known since the beginning that no matter what they do, Jews will be to blame, allowing their corrupt government to receive billions and universal support-they correctly count on the universal hatred of the Jew, as does the President.

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