In the wake of President Obama’s decision to abandon Israel at the United Nations Security Council last week, some administration apologists have sought to spin the vote on Resolution 2334—which “condemned” as illegal the Jewish presence in any part of the West Bank or parts of Jerusalem—as being in keeping with decades of American foreign policy positions. It is also defended as being balanced in its criticisms of Israel and the Palestinians and thus a necessary prod to peace. The White House and left-wing Jewish groups are also seeking to shift the blame for the decision from the president to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.
All of these arguments are patently false.
They also deliberately miss the point of Obama’s decision to not merely abstain on a measure that was blatantly biased against Israel but to actually help draft the document and to push hard for its passage, even after one of its initial sponsors sought to pull it back. The resolution was the culmination of an eight-year effort to distance the United States from Israel. That process began in January 2009, when the new president openly stated that one of his top foreign policy priorities was to create more “daylight” between the two allies. It continued through years of ginned up fights with Netanyahu over settlements, borders, Jerusalem, and the president’s push for a rapprochement with Iran that culminated in the nuclear deal in 2015. This UN resolution, one that could escalate diplomatic and economic attacks on Israel at a time of rising anti-Semitism around the globe, represents the capstone on Obama’s effort to isolate Israel.
There is a fundamental difference between this and other anti-Israel resolution that previous administrations allowed to be passed. The United States has always opposed the settlements and never recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. But while other resolutions unfairly criticized the Jewish state, none of them specifically labeled the Jewish presence in territory Israel took control of in the 1967 Six Day War as illegal. This is significant because it means that hundreds of thousands of Jews living in decades-old Jewish neighborhoods in the city of Jerusalem or in settlement blocs that even Obama has conceded would remain inside Israel in the event of a peace treaty are now international outlaws. It will also mean that Jews living in the disputed territories or Israeli officials may be hauled into the International Criminal Court. It will put air in the sails of an anti-Semitic BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) movement that had seemed to be losing ground in recent years. Now, for the first time, it can claim to have the backing of the UN.
Nor was the resolution balanced as Obama’s apologists claim. While it condemned attacks on civilians and incitement to violence, it also did not specify that the Palestinian Authority was guilty of fomenting and financing terror even as it did not hesitate to indict the state of Israel on false charges of damaging peace.
Just as important, it removes any incentive for the Palestinian Authority to budge from its refusal to negotiate peace with Israel. In effect, Obama, who has claimed to be a champion of the peace process, has effectively killed it. By colluding with the Palestinians in this UN gambit, Obama has endorsed their end-run around direct negotiations sponsored by the United States and has ensured they won’t be revived, no matter how many times Netanyahu reiterates his offer of talks.
Nothing Netanyahu did in the last eight years or even in the last few months was a departure from existing Israeli policies toward the territories. To the contrary, settlement growth slowed under his government, a fact that his right-wing critics have not missed. Nor has he stepped back from his willingness to negotiate a two-state solution.
No previous American government made a point, as Obama has consistently done, of attacking Israel’s position in Jerusalem. Under the terms of this resolution, the Western Wall and other Jewish holy places in Jerusalem are considered to be Palestinian. This isn’t merely offensive to Jews. It’s a not so thinly veiled endorsement of the vicious Palestinian campaign at UNESCO and other UN bodies to deny Jewish history and religion by claiming Jerusalem’s holy places are exclusively Muslim.
As Obama knew full well, the mischief that will ensue from Resolution 2334 will not be able to be undone by his successor. He took this vindictive act in full knowledge that it was the Palestinians who have turned down numerous offers of statehood. It may also be followed up in the days before January 20 with an even more damaging resolution that could recognize Palestinian statehood in the 1967 lines without forcing them to make peace with Israel first. Though Obama and his apologists may believe this is necessary to “save Israel from itself,” what he has done could actually finish the already remote hopes for peace for another generation.
This betrayal won’t cause Israel to surrender its rights or its security and it may well encourage President-elect Trump to take actions to retaliate against the UN and the Palestinians in order to restore some balance. But whatever else happens, it cannot be denied is that on Jerusalem and on peace, Barack Obama has done more to damage the U.S.-Israel relationship that any president in the last 60 years.