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!”
The Israeli ambassador to the US responded to Trump’s various statements of support by saying that Israel…
was very heartened that President-Elect Trump was against this move at the UN Security Council — that he wants to work closely with Israel moving forward to strengthen this alliance….. I do not think there will be daylight between the US and Israel, and we look forward to having that conversation and seeing what we can do to reverse this resolution. (Fox News)
Once Trump is president, backing Israel 100% is one campaign pledge he is likely to keep. Notes, the Washington Examiner,
White evangelicals, who supply about a third of the Republican vote in presidential elections, are more than twice as likely than Jews to believe God gave Israel to the Jewish people. Only Orthodox Jews are slightly more likely to believe this.
Many liberal Jewish organizations, on the other hand, side with Obama, believing the only way for Israel to move forward at this juncture is to negotiate a two-state solution with the Palestinians. One thing is certain, cracks are deepening all over the American political landscape regarding support for Israel and how it is best shown, but Christian conservatives would like to quickly repair the growing divisions in Israel’s best interest:
“Our hope at Faith and Freedom Coalition is that reasonable Democrats like Sens. Menendez, Schumer, Manchin, Casey and others will reject these feckless flailings of an expired political regime on its way out of office,” said Tim Head, executive director of a pro-Israel Christian conservative group. “These latest antics at the U.N. are little more than the waning afterglow of a setting foreign policy agenda that soon will be corrected and discarded. But it will take a unified effort by Republicans and Democrats alike to rehabilitate the global reputation of the United States.” (The Washington Examiner)
That may prove to be a bit naive or wishful at best because Netanyahu’s approach already badly grated on Democrats, and Netanyahu has only become even more outspoken against the Democratic president in the aftermath of this UN resolution. (As Schumer said, positions are becoming more extreme on both sides.)
Netanyahu claims Israel will present solid proof to the new Trump administration after the inauguration that the Obama administration took a very active role in forming the new UN Security Council resolution. Pushing the issue defiantly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says,
We have no doubt that the Obama administration initiated it, stood behind it, coordinated its versions and insisted upon its passage.
Israel claims it has “ironclad” information from Arab sources about the Obama administration’s overt efforts to push this agenda in the UN. Reports in a couple of Middle Eastern newspapers seem to corroborate Netanyahu’s claims, according to the Times of Israel:
An Egyptian paper published what it claims are the transcripts of meetings between top US and Palestinian officials that, if true, would corroborate Israeli accusations that the Obama administration was behind last week’s UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements. At the same time, a report in an Israeli daily Tuesday night pointed to Britain helping draft the resolution and high drama in the hours leading up to the vote, as Jerusalem tried to convince New Zealand to bury the Security Council measure. In a meeting in early December with top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, US Secretary of State John Kerry told the Palestinians that the US was prepared to cooperate with the Palestinians at the Security council, Israel’s Channel 1 TV said, quoting the Egyptian Al-Youm Al-Sabea newspaper. Also present at the meeting according to the report were US National Security Adviser Susan Rice, and Majed Faraj, director of the Palestinian Authority’s General Intelligence Service. White House national security council spokesman Ned Price on Wednesday told the Times of Israel that no such meeting took place. “The ‘transcript’ is a total fabrication,” he said…. Israel fears that Kerry, who is slated to give a speech Wednesday on the subject, will then lay out his comprehensive vision for two-state solution at a Paris peace conference planned for January.
An article in the Israeli Daily Ha’aretz, however states that…
Britain Pulled the Strings and Netanyahu Warned New Zealand It Was Declaring War: A call from Netanyahu to Putin triggered a real drama at the UN HQ just one hour before the vote.
And a more recent Times of Israel report states,
UK officials have stepped up in recent days to say the resolution was theirs, not the White House’s. The Jewish Chronicle quoted an unnamed senior British political source Thursday saying that by the time the text reached the 15-member body, it was “in effect a British resolution.” A day earlier, The Guardian reported Britain “played a key behind-the-scenes role” in ensuring the resolution passed. Another British source told the Chronicle that the “yes” vote for the resolution was part of UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s new strategy toward Israel, according to which the Jewish state’s friends have to take a stand against settlements to garner favor with the Palestinians.
In response, Netanyahu has cancelled a meeting he had scheduled with Theresa May — a move which the British called in their usual understated way, “disappointing.”
As Netanyahu waits for the Trump administration to take the reins in the US before he divulges his own information about the Obama administration, he is taking the battle to other nations. One alternative Israeli news site has given an extensive but unconfirmed report that states Vice President Biden called Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to put diplomatic pressure on Ukraine to vote in the security counsel for the resolution. Biden’s office acknowledges the phone call but denies that anything was said about the UN resolution.
Netanyahu tried to push back ahead of the resolution with his own ineffective calls to Ukraine. The Ukrainian vote has set Ukrainian relations with Israel reeling. Ukraine has a large Jewish population. Even its new prime minister, Volodymyr Groysman, is Jewish, but his first official state visit with Israel next week was just cancelled by Israel in retaliation for Ukraine’s vote.
To retaliate domestically, Netanyahu has ramped up settlement approvals in the territories, threatening thousands of new homes in east Jerusalem.
If Israel is right that Obama intentionally rammed this resolution through the UN in his twilight days as president, Obama has effectively stripped Trump of any ability to reverse this action. Reversing it would require getting China, Russia and others on the Security Council who have long wanted something like this to withhold their own Security Council veto on any measure put forward by the US to rescind the resolution. There is almost zero chance of getting Russia AND China to backpedal on this. Obama has effectively eliminated any possibility for Trump to repair the situation to Israel’s liking.
Is Obama preparing to become Secretary General of the UN?
These sudden moves in the final month of a lame-duck presidency are the most extraordinary all-out rush to get new diplomacy solidly in place before the president-elect gets into office that I’ve ever seen. There would be no point in doing any of this unless Obama believes he can rapidly accomplish something irreversible.
An Israeli spokesman warned that last week’s anti-Israel U.N. resolution may be only the beginning. David Keyes, spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said his government is concerned that the Obama administration is scrambling to put its stamp on Israeli foreign policy before President-elect Donald Trump takes office…. We actually believe this may be the first of another series of pushes before the Obama administration leaves office…. Mr. Netanyahu fears that Secretary of State John Kerry may seek a Security Council resolution to enshrine the administration’s vision for an Israeli-Palestinian accord before Mr. Trump takes office. (The Washington Times)
On January 15th, seventy nations will converge in Paris to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Kerry will be there, and there is no question that his seventy-minute speech this week set the table for his plans at that summit.
According to France’s i24News,
Kerry would propose the recognition of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders, and after land exchanges that would allow about 80% of the Jewish residents of the settlements to remain under Israeli sovereignty. The Palestinians will have to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, and Israel will have to recognize the Palestinian state and its capital, East Jerusalem. Kerry is expected to submit this proposal next month, just before the change of administration.
Certainly sounds like an all-out last-minute press to establish solid facts on the ground before Trump can do anything about them. The Guardian reports,
White House races to save Middle East peace process before Trump takes office:… The parameters outlined by Kerry are expected to draw international endorsement at a meeting of foreign ministers on 15 January, just five days before Trump moves into the White House. The meeting is supposed to reinforce a strategy of isolating Netanyahu…. The Israeli government is reportedly fearful that any guidelines agreed in Paris would be turned into another UN resolution before Trump’s inauguration, and it has ratcheted up its rhetoric, presenting itself as the victim of an international conspiracy…. Meanwhile, Israel’s defence minister, Avigdor Lieberman, portrayed the Paris conference as a new “Dreyfus trial”, referring to an outburst of French antisemitism more than a century ago, and urged French Jews to move to Israel…. Aaron David Miller, a former US negotiator on the Middle East and now a scholar at the Wilson Centre thinktank, said Obama’s 11th-hour attempt at legacy building on the Israeli-Palestinian issue could trigger a backlash. “It risks the incoming administration walking away from whatever has transpired in December and early January, and not just walking away from [but] sending unmistakable signals to the Israelis that it would support and favour acts on the ground that go beyond what we’ve seen,” Miller said. “The odds that Netanyahu will now press and Trump will respond positively to a move to push the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, I think have gone up.” He said that if the highly emotive issue of Jerusalem’s status became the focal point of Israeli-Palestinian friction once more, “then I think the prospects for a serious, significant confrontation are high….” Amir Oren, a liberal Israeli commentator, argued that the UN resolution could save the government from itself by bringing closer an end to settlement construction. “Santa Obama delivered a wonderful Christmas present to Israel when the United States opted not to veto Friday’s United Nations security council vote condemning settlement policy,” he wrote in Haaretz. “The passage of the resolution won’t result in the immediate dismantling of any West Bank settlements, but the world is beginning to come to the rescue and try to save Israel from itself.”
Indeed, it appears to be a move in the direction of the world helping Israel save itself (whether it turns out to be “helpful” or not), and I don’t think Obama is just going to throw that on the world stage and then walk away, feeling his legacy is complete. I think he’s putting it there now, while he can, so that he can take it up in the global theater when he is out of office.
The Egyptian article alluded to above — denied by the Obama admin. — quotes Kerry as saying he could present his ideas for a final-status solution if the Palestinians pledge they will support the proposed framework. Obviously he hasn’t got much time to present them officially to other nations for action outside of this one January 15th meeting.
While a move by Obama to gain the Secretary General position at the UN would be a major blow to Angelina Jolie’s aspirations, I think there is evidence Obama is moving in that direction now that he has no hope of any political power as high as he has become used to.
Given how Obama’s trans-Pacific trade pact set to strip the US of sovereignty by handing many trade regulatory powers to the UN, I believe Obama was already using his final months of the presidency to diminish US presidential powers and increase UN powers in order to prepare the way for a move to becoming UN Secretary General. The same can be seen in his negotiations to diminish US control over environmental regulations, putting regulatory power more in the hands of the UN. He needed to diminish US powers while he could in order to create a more powerful international position for himself in the future with less interference from the US.
Obama has made it clear that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a major legacy item for him. With his days now too short in the presidency to accomplish much, he needs to push power to the UN if he is to continue working on that legacy issue. By getting this resolution passed through the Security Council now, Obama reduced some of Trump’s veto power over what the UN can impose on Israel in the future. The resolution, for example, strengthens the UN General Assembly’s ability to place sanctions on Israel that don’t need to go through the security council and are, therefore, are not something Trump would be able to veto. They also give the UN a firm basis for taking Israel to international court at the Hague if any further settlement activity continues.
Since Trump will try to reverse all of this, Obama must think he will be in a position at the UN to catch the ball he is now passing in order to keep running it forward. If nothing else, this action will ingratiate him at the UN, making his friends there feel he has finally earned that Nobel Peace Prize he received for getting elected in 2008.
Other twilight maneuvers by Obama
The Washington Post has announced,
The Obama administration is close to announcing a series of measures to punish Russia for its interference in the 2016 presidential election, including economic sanctions and diplomatic censure, according to U.S. officials… The administration is finalizing the details, which also are expected to include covert action that will probably involve cyber-operations.
Apparently, Obama intends to start a cyberwar with Russia before Trump gets in office in order to establish more facts on the ground that move Russian relations away from Trump’s stated aims before he even gets started:
Administration officials would also like to make it difficult for President-elect Donald Trump to roll back any action they take.
Does that mean “do enough damage to the Russians that they have to retaliate in a mutual cyberwar before Trump takes office?” Start a war and leave it for the other guy to finish? That is from the fake-news-hating, Obama-loving, liberal Post, not the conservative Washington Times.
Besides his actions with Israel and the UN and the upcoming Paris meeting about Israel, Obama has by executive order locked out major areas of the Arctic for oil drilling in a move that is seen as likely irreversible by Trump because of how congress long ago wrote up the law that allows this executive action. (It would take an act of congress to override the president’s move to designate these lands as perpetually off the table for oil drilling.)
The Obama administration has dismantled the legal framework Trump could have used for vetting Muslim immigrants. (Not sure how easily Trump can reinstate that or put something better in its place.)
Presidents like to save their most controversial pardons for their last day in office. Will Obama offer Hillary Clinton a pardon that exempts her from prosecution for any crimes committed prior to the date of the pardon? The precedent for pardoning someone before they are even formally charged with a crime was established by President Gerald Ford when he pardoned Nixon, as his first act in office, before Nixon was even impeached or taken to trial.
Could that be why Trump is backpedaling now on his pledge to put “crooked Hillary” in jail? Is he hoping that, by appearing he won’t go after Hillary, Obama will not pardon her, an action that implicitly says Hillary did something wrong and that Hillary might have to accept in order for it to be effective. Obama may prefer not to pardon if Trump appears to prefer not to prosecute because a pardon would be regarded by many as tacit admission that there was some kind of wrong-doing to pardon her from.
Trump, of course, is all atwitter about Obama’s end-of-term efforts to cut off his options:
Doing my best to disregard the many inflammatory President O statements an