JERUSALEM — In a fiery speech Saturday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attacked President Obama and the United Nations for the passage a day before of a harsh resolution that criticized Israel’s settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Netanyahu said the resolution was part of the “swan song of old world bias against Israel” and, he compared Obama to former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, who he called “hostile” to Israel and the last to break with U.S. commitment to support Israel. Carter frequently criticizes Israel’s activities in the West bank and more recently urged Obama to extend diplomatic recognition to Palestine.
“The resolution is distorted. It states that the Jewish quarter and the Western Wall are occupied, which is absurd,” said Netanyahu, referring to holy Jewish sites that sit within the Old City in East Jerusalem.
But Netanyahu said he was optimistic because a new era was beginning in the world, especially with president-elect Donald Trump about to enter the White House and those who try to harm Israel will pay a high price. He said Israel would fight to cancel the resolution.
Israeli leaders on Saturday seemed to be counting down the days to Trump’s Jan. 20 inauguration, hopeful he will offer a more sympathetic approach to Israel and bring an end to what one senior minister called Obama’s support for “Palestinian intransigence, incitement, violence and terror.”
The resolution, which was brought for a vote Friday in the U.N. Security Council, declares settlements built on land Israel has occupied since the 1967 war as having “no legal validity” and a threat to the possibility of creating two-states, one for Israelis and one for Palestinians.
The resolution passed 14 to zero, with the United States, in a break with practice, abstaining rather than vetoing. It was the first resolution adopted by the council on Israel and the Palestinians in nearly eight years.
In a statement after the vote, Netanyahu said that Obama had “not only failed to protect Israel against this gang-up at the U.N., it has colluded with it behind the scenes.”
He called the resolution “shameful” and said Israel would not abide by its terms.
For the first time since the U.S. election, Netanyahu stated clearly that he looked forward to working with Trump, “to negate the harmful effects of this absurd resolution.”
Netanyahu and his ministers have generally refrained from making public statements about Trump, but subtle words and gestures have suggested that the Israeli leadership is buoyed by the new administration.
They now seem eager to see the back of Obama, who has clashed regularly with Netanyahu over numerous issues, especially the settlements.
Roughly 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.
Trump, on the other hand, has indicated he might bring a fresh approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Last week, he nominated his close adviser, New York lawyer David Friedman, an outspoken supporter of Israel’s settlements, as the ambassador to Israel. And on Thursday he tweeted that “The resolution being considered . . . should be vetoed.”
The potential change in direction, might explain why there was such urgency to bring the resolution to a vote on Friday, and the U.S. decision to let it pass.
A White House official, speaking on 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 in circulation.
The official said the White House would not back any measure that delegitimized Israel or imposed a solution on the two parties, and would veto a resolution that omitted mention of incitement to violence and terrorism.
Late Wednesday night, President Obama spoke by phone with advisers. Among the participants were Vice President Biden, Secretary of State John F. Kerry, national security adviser Susan E. Rice and Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Obama said he was “open” to abstaining from a vote on an Egyptian resolution scheduled for Thursday.
But the Egyptians withdrew their resolution 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. On Friday morning, Obama authorized an abstention. It was relayed to Power through Rice.
Following the vote, Netanyahu ordered a series of diplomatic steps against the countries that had brought the resolution and with whom Israel has diplomatic relations.
He instructed Israel’s ambassadors in New Zealand and Senegal to immediately return to Israel and canceled a planned visit to Israel by the Senegalese foreign minister scheduled for next month. He also suspended Israeli aid programs in Senegal.
On Saturday, Netanyahu also said that he would cancel Israel’s financial contributions to five U.N. agencies.
In Cairo, Sisi’s government was left struggling to defend its actions, after first sponsoring the resolution and then withdrawing it. Although it ultimately voted in favor, Egypt drew criticism at home and in the Arab world for giving the appearance it had folded in the face of Israeli pressure.
After the resolution passed Friday, the country’s representative to the United Nations said the decision to withdraw had been “procedural” and taken because of “pressures that the draft has met.”
Among Palestinians, as well as Arab countries seen as friendly to Israel, the resolution was viewed as a victory.
Saeb Erekat, a former peace negotiator and the No. 2 in the Palestine Liberation Organization, said the vote was a “clear and unanimous message” to Netanyahu that “your policies will not achieve peace and security for Israel or the region.”
In Gaza, Hamas spokesman Fawzy Barhoum said: “Hamas appreciates the position of the countries that voted in the Security Council for the right of the Palestinian people (to live) on their land,” AFP reported.
Israeli leaders across the political spectrum, however, criticized the U.N. decision.
“I strongly oppose this harsh resolution, which is a strategic defeat for Israel,” opposition leader Isaac Herzog said, Haaretz reported. Speaking on Israeli television on Saturday, he laid the blame for the defeat on Netanyahu’s foreign policy.
Israel Katz, a senior government minister from Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party said Obama had “reached a new low, when he turned his back on America’s ally Israel.”
“Obama’s decision at the end of his presidency to abandon the political umbrella which the United States has traditionally provided Israel in the Security Council will unfortunately only deepen the Israeli public’s distrust and allow the Palestinians to continue to evade responsibility,” he said.
Kareem Fahim and Heba Farouk Mahfouz in Cairo and Carol Morello in Washington contributed to this report.
The Washington Post