Politics

Obama May Not Be Done with Israel

Outgoing administration could still prompt a pre-inauguration U.N. vote to recognize Palestine

Is President Obama finished with Israel yet? The United Nations’ anti-Israel resolution that the United States didn’t veto could simply be in lieu of a more far-reaching imposition of a Palestinian state — or it could be the trial run for the big one.

Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry sought a two-state peace deal that never materialized, but the administration’s public position has consistently been that the Israelis and Palestinians must reach their own agreement — not have one imposed by the international community. The pre-Christmas vote on U.N. Security Council Resolution 2334 condemns Israel’s settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and calls on the country to stop construction in land claimed by the Palestinians.

From Obama and Kerry’s point of view, concern about a pro-Israel Trump presidency might justify imposing the sought after two-state solution through the U.N.

Kerry denies news leaks that the U.S. government negotiated the resolution behind the scenes, and insists the administration had little knowledge before the vote was taken. What really matters is the swiftness on the proposal, voted on within a week of introduction by Egypt. Whether the Obama administration is behind this or not, there is time before Jan. 20 for the U.N. to take another vote — this time recognizing a Palestinian state — and for U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power to again abstain.

President-Elect Donald Trump tweeted Wednesday, “We cannot continue to let Israel be treated with such total disdain and disrespect. They used to have a great friend in the U.S., but……. not anymore. The beginning of the end was the horrible Iran deal, and now this (U.N.)! Stay strong Israel, January 20th is fast approaching!”

The U.N. resolution may be Obama’s way of using his pen and phone to deliver a parting shot to Israel. The problem is that any such resolution is not an executive order that the next president could overturn on his first day.

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The Resolution 2334 assertion that settlements built on lands since 1967 have “no legal validity” is essentially international law. So, it can be used as grounds for countries to sanction and even for individuals or organizations to sue the nation of Israel before international courts.

The same would be true — with more severe consequences — if the U.N. Security Council decided to recognize a Palestinian state. The new Trump administration wouldn’t be powerless to protect the U.S. ally, but undoing what’s been done would not be easy.

During his long remarks Wednesday, Kerry asserted, “The two-state solution is the only way to achieve a just and lasting peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.”

That comment alone isn’t too audacious, since previous administrations have backed a two-state solution. But he added that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had the “most right-wing” coalition in the country’s history. From Obama and Kerry’s point of view, concern about a pro-Israel Trump presidency might justify imposing the sought-after two-state solution through the U.N.

Former President Jimmy Carter already advised the Obama administration to do as much in a Nov. 28 New York Times op-ed that said, “The simple but vital step this administration must take before its term expires on Jan. 20 is to grant American diplomatic recognition to the state of Palestine.”

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“Recognition of Palestine and a new Security Council resolution are not radical new measures, but a natural outgrowth of America’s support for a two-state solution,” Carter wrote. “The United States can still shape the future of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict before a change in presidents, but time is very short.”

Asked about the Carter op-ed during a press briefing, White House deputy press secretary Eric Schultz said, “I don’t think [Carter’s] views are new today, so I don’t have any new positions or views from us on that.”

Such an action would be incredibly unpopular. Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer of New York is already upset about the U.S. abstaining on the U.N. vote last week. That’s in part because the administration essentially did what a bipartisan coalition of 88 senators asked it not to in a Sept. 19 letter warning against a lame-duck U.N. measure on peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.

However, whether it’s Obamacare, immigration, or the Iran nuclear deal, we’ve learned the president isn’t afraid to take unpopular actions and can be downright gleeful about going around Congress. That would seem to be even more likely on his way out.

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