West Hills, CA. First things first. This past Friday, the U.N. Security Council by a vote of 14-0, passed a stinging resolution condemning Israeli settlement construction as lacking any legal validity. Where over the past 70 years the United States could reliably be counted on to exercise its Security Council veto authority whenever any such blatantly anti-Israel measure was on the table, this time, our U.N. Ambassador, Samantha Powers, abstained. Needless to say, this radical turn of events sent shockwaves around the world. That President Obama should order Ambassador Powers to abstain is both historic and deeply troubling. For as long as anyone can recall, the United States has acted as both Israel's BFF and partisan guarantor of last resort. And even if one does not favor Israel's continued settlement program (I am among this group), this latest turn of events is monumental. Monumentally bad? Monumentally good? Not even Siri knows . . .
With Friday's abstention, President Obama has done the heretofore unthinkable, thereby giving "aid and comfort" to Israel's international enemies, while at the same time putting diabolic "We-told-you-he's-an-Israel-hating-closeted-Muslim-anti-Semite" leers on the faces of his most ardent detractors here at home. By sitting idly by and permitting the Security Council to finally pass the resolution it's always dreamed of, Barack Obama has essentially turned the soon-to-be inaugurated Donald Trump into Israel's vaunted political savior. Indeed, upon hearing of the abstention, Trump warned the U.N. (and promised Israeli P.M. Bibi Netanyahu) "When I become President, things are going to be different."
Predictably, the president is facing widespread condemnation from both Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill, and placed a noxious pall over his last month in the White House. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) called the abstention "a failure of leadership and judgment," and pledged to work with the incoming administration to reassure Israel of America's continuing commitment to its security. Incoming Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) called the vote "frustrating, disappointing and confounding." Across the country, leaders of most mainstream Jewish organizations have condemned the vote. A statement released by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations stated, in part: "There is no justification or explanation that validates the United States failure to veto the one-sided, offensive resolution adopted by the Security Council today. The United States vote will be seen as a betrayal of the fundamentals of the special relationship that will nevertheless continue to mark the close ties between the peoples of the two countries.”
In Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged to exact a “diplomatic and economic price” from countries who acted against Israel. (Whatever this means is unclear; as Rachel Maddow would say, "Watch this space.") The Israeli P.M. also announced that he would halt his country's contributions to several U.N. institutions (amounting to somewhere in the neighborhood of $7.8 million) and said he would work closely with incoming President Trump to rescind the U.N.'s resolution.
On the surface, the response to Obama's historic abstention and the U.N. resolution that abstention made possible has, for the most part, been fairly predictable. Without question, it poses vexing and unknowable difficulties for both the United States and Israel. The Jewish State now finds itself more isolated than ever; not exactly the kind of Chanukah miracle any sane person was hoping for. But somewhere beneath the surface, where the chess match called politics resides, there lurks a specter haunting Mr. Netanyahu. While it is far too early to know whether or not this action will forever taint Mr. Obama's political reputation, Mr. Netanyahu is already facing political high heat which threatens him from all sides.
For years, the conservative Israeli P.M. has been engaged in a strange, somewhat duplicitous strategy where in a sense, he has been playing on both sides of the same political chess board. For years, he has been competing domestically with his right-wing rivals in backing the settlement project all over the occupied West Bank while at the same time publicly professing support for a two-state solution with the Palestinians. This attempt to be all things to all people has of late begun to wear pretty thin. And now, with the Security Council having gone on record as finding these settlements both illegal and an impediment to any future negotiated settlement, Israeli politicians and analysts on the right, center and left are beginning to lick their chops, sensing that Bibi is about to lose the match . . . to himself.
In Hebrew one might give him the following advice: הגיע הזמן לחרבן או רד מן הסיר - namely, "The time has come to sh*t or get off the pot."
This isn't going to be easy for the heretofore politically adroit Prime Minister. Those on Netanyahu's political right, feeling their oats because of the impending Trump administration and his putative Ambassador-in-waiting, David Friedman, are pushing their P.M. to abandon the idea of a Palestinian State - long considered the only viable solution to the conflict. Naftali Bennett, leader of the pro-settlement Jewish Home party is goading Mr. Netanyahu to adopt even more extreme positions, like annexing parts of the West Bank, which would be politically disastrous. The Prime Minister has also spoken out in favor of the so-called "Regulation Bill," which, unbelievably, would retroactively legalize settler outposts and homes built on privately owned Palestinian land and force the owners to accept compensation. And yet, at the same time, Mr. Netanyahu has warned that the bill he supports contravenes international law and "could land Israeli officials in the defendant dock of the International Criminal Court in The Hague."
Former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, leader of the political center-left Zionist Union, while seeing the Security Council vote as being bad for Israel, nonetheless declared the other day that it is " . . . the result of Netanyahu's surrender to the extreme right." And yet, at the same time, Netanyahu still declares himself to favor a two-state solution. As stated above, his political game plan is beginning to wear thin . . .
As much as one (myself included) may deride President Obama for failing to veto this latest anti-Israel U.N. resolution. it is nonetheless important to remember that the United States has over the past eight years provided the Jewish State with more financial aid and weaponry than at any time in the past. While it is undoubtedly true that the optics of the current impasse are far from satisfactory, actions will always continue to speak louder than words . . . or abstentions.
Whatever is going to be in store for Israel will have a lot to do with America's next president, his administration and the political future of Bibi Netanyahu. In the game of political chess, it is always best to know as much about one's opponent as possible and then make him or her play your game. But when that opponent is one's own self, all bets are off.
Clearly, we're headed where no one has gone before . . . again.
Copyright©2016 Kurt F. Stone