by David Haggith, The Great Recession Blog:
President Obama’s UN declaration that Israeli settlements are illegal says this duck isn’t lame. It was not the finale of Obama’s closing months as president but the prologue to years ahead, pushing his legacy to where it can be carried out at the UN. Congressional leaders say Obama is already plotting further action on Israel before he leaves office, according to the Washington Free Beacon.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center put Obama’s refusal to veto the UN resolution at top of its annual list of anti-Semitic acts. One has to acknowledge, regardless of his or her position about Israeli settlements, that Obama is choosing to create an unusual whirlwind of controversy as he leaves office. The resolution (#2334) states that Israel’s settlement activity “has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law,” and calls for an end to all construction beyond the boundaries that existed in 1967 prior to the Six Day War.
Rightly or wrongly, he is certainly kicking the hornets’ nest inside the White House as he heads out the door. It is highly unusual for an outgoing president to initiate a major upheaval in diplomatic relations that runs directly opposed to the direction the incoming president has already said he will take. Trump had insisted that Obama not move the US in this direction. So, the wild ride of the 2016 presidential campaign has become even wilder after the campaign.
Secretary of State John Kerry kicked the controversy with Israel up a notch with his own speech when he said,
If the choice is one state … Israel can either be Jewish or democratic…. It cannot be both, and it won’t ever really be at peace. (The Washington Examiner)
In defending the Obama administration against critics of its UN move, Kerry also said,
Critics “failed to recognize that this friend, the United States of America, has done more to support Israel than any other country. This friend that has blocked countless efforts to delegitimize Israel, cannot be true to our own values, or even the stated democratic values of Israel and we cannot properly protect and defend Israel if we allow a viable two-state solution to be destroyed before our own eyes.”
And then he took the battle even higher when he said,
Washington could not “protect or defend” the country should Tel Aviv continue to balk at two-state peace plans with Palestinians. His comments drew swift and sharp rebuke from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who chided Mr. Kerry by saying Israelis did “not need to be lectured” about peace by the outgoing administration, while President-elect Donald Trump weighed in even before the speech was given with a strong support for Mr. Netanyahu and Israel, and vowing his incoming administration would take a sharply different approach. It was an … extraordinarily public division between two longtime allies, one that could have lasting and incalculable consequences for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Washington’s traditional role as an honest broker and the main outside power in the Middle East peace process. (The Washington Times)
President Obama divides and conquers
Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) says he fears Obama’s actions have emboldened extremists on both ends. While Netanyahu is digging back by withdrawing diplomatic relations with nations that approved the resolution and by withdrawing UN funding, and Palestinians are pushing forward with moves to force a two-state solution, Obama’s move has initiated a diplomatic international war. The US congress, with some bipartisan support, has indicated it could cut off all UN funding in retaliation against the UN. Trump has indicated the same thing. While UN members that cut off funding lose their voting privileges, the United States is the UN’s biggest supporter, so cutting off UN funding will have serious implications at the UN if it happens.
Congress could also choose to expel diplomats of nations that backed the resolution from the US, as Israel did, which may include stripping Palestinians of diplomatic privileges. Congress may also be more supportive of Trump’s initiative to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
“The disgraceful anti-Israel resolution passed by the UNSC was apparently only the opening salvo in the Obama administration’s final assault on Israel,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) told the Free Beacon…. “President Obama … should remember that the United States Congress reconvenes on January 3rd, and under the Constitution we control the taxpayer funds they would use for their anti-Israel initiatives…,” Cruz said, expressing his desire to work with the incoming Trump administration to reset the U.S. relationship with Israel.
The Free Beacon, quoted above, also reported that one congressional member has said,
Members on both sides of the aisle are furious, so our response will be swift and forceful…. With a Trump administration in place, any nation that seeks to delegitimize the Jewish state will need to answer to the United States.
So, a powerful conflict between the US and the UN with fighting terms such as we have not seen before is likely on. Trump will find he has a congress that is largely ready to push back, while Trump’s statements of unequivocal support for Israel and pressure on Palestinians have been clear. However, Obama may have greatly widened a split in Democrats, which traditionally have been as pro-Israel as Republicans. Even liberals like Ted Kennedy were solidly on Israel’s side at every juncture.
Our alliance with Israel is an alliance based on common democratic ideals and mutual benefit. We must never barter the freedom and future of Israel for a barrel of oil — or foolishly try to align the Arab world with us, no matter what cost. (Ted Kennedy)
The congressional divide began to materialize when Netanyahu, in the opinion of many (to the delight of Republicans and disdain of Democrats) poked the Democratic president in the eye by sidestepping him in a unique move to take his Iranian petition directly to congress. Until Netanyahu’s highly unusual move, Israel had worked long and hard to stay out of US politics in order to do all it could to maintain bipartisan support for Israel; and this is why. Netanyahu was strongly criticized at home by many who feared the risk would lead to something like this.
As a result of Netanyahu’s agreement to accept Speaker Boehner’s speech invitation, sixty Democrats, including presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, VP candidate Tim Kaine, and likely future presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren boycotted that congressional meeting. Senior senator Sen. Patrick Leahy from Bernie’s home state, called Netanyahu’s speech a “tawdry and high-handed stunt.” Charlie Rangel, who was was a Democratic representative from New York at the time, tweeted, “Bibi: If you have a problem with our POTUS’s foreign policy meet me at AIPAC but not on the House floor.”
Netanyahu and Obama both denied that this incident had damaged their relationship and Israel’s bipartisan support in the US, but anyone could plainly see from their body language the icy barrier that had frosted its way between the two from that point forward. Now Obama has tapped the ice wedge a little deeper, knowing full well that Democrats in congress wish to oppose Trump wherever they can anyway.
This may be a divide-and-conquer move that will further imperil the once fully bipartisan congressional support Israel has long enjoyed. Many in Israel who worried that Netanyahu had poisoned relations with the president by that move now say this appears to be payback time … to the extent that the White House has had to formally deny that it is.
As for Trump, he tweeted, “Stay strong Israel. January 20th is fast approaching!”
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