President Barack Obama shocked Israel and the American Jewish community Friday by instructing his UN ambassador to abstain on a Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem.
The unexpected American vote — called Obama’s “December surprise” by angry Israeli officials — was a 14 to zero vote supporting the resolution, with the United States casting an abstention that did not block it from entering international law.
The resolution stated Israeli settlements have “no legal validity and constitute a flagrant violation under international law.”
The U.S. vote upends long-standing American policy to force Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate face-to-face about the future of the region and not by edict issued by third parties such as the UN.
It also ended more than a half century of the United States protecting Israel at the UN from anti-Israel resolutions introduced by Arab countries. A similar resolution before the Security Council was vetoed by the U.S. in 2011.
In Israel, officials roundly called the vote “shameful.” An Israeli official told the Jerusalem Post the Obama administration “secretly cooked up with the Palestinians an extreme anti-Israeli resolution behind Israel’s back which would be a tailwind for terror.”
The Israeli official called the vote, “an abandonment of Israel which breaks decades of US policy of protecting Israel at the UN.”
Obama’s last-minute anti-Israeli action was taken only weeks before he leaves the White House. But the outgoing president’s latest move could dramatically alter the political landscape in the United States among American Jews who now look to President-elect Donald Trump to reverse Obama’s policy.
In one of the few national polls of Jewish voters in the 2016 presidential election, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton enjoyed a 42 percent advantage over Trump — nearly three of every four Jewish voters supported her candidacy.
Minutes after the U.S. vote, Trump tweeted, “As to the U.N., things will be different after Jan. 20th.” The Republican may enter the White House with widespread Jewish support, ending decades of Jewish voter loyalty to Democrats.
Realizing the political fallout of the Obama vote, three staunchly pro-Israeli Democratic senators — Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Chris Coons of Connecticut — publicly urged the president to veto the resolution before the vote.
Blumenthal called the resolution, a “misguided and one-sided attempt backed by the Palestinian Authority to isolate Israel and weaken the peace process.”
Incoming U.S. Senate Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who represents heavily Jewish New York, personally distanced himself from the White House.
Schumer and Republican South Carolina Sen. Lindsay Graham personally sent a joint letter to Secretary of State John Kerry just hours before the vote, stating, “A failure to decisively announce that we will veto any resolution from the United Nations that dictates the peace process runs counter to decades of American foreign policy.”
Schumer, who reportedly called the White House Friday morning to thwart the abstention, sought his own political survival by telling constituents in a statement, “I have spoken directly to the Administration numerous times … and in the strongest terms possible urged them to veto this resolution. I am strongly opposed to the UN putting pressure on Israel through one-sided resolutions. An abstention is not good enough. The Administration must veto this resolution.,” as reported by The New York Post.
House Speaker Paul Ryan said after the vote, it was “a blow to peace that sets a dangerous precedent for further diplomatic efforts to isolate and demonize Israel.”
Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador, strained to justify the abstention, claiming her vote was supported by Democrats and Republicans. She told the Security Council after her abstention, “It is because this resolution reflects the facts on the ground and is consistent with U.S. policy across Republican and Democratic administrations … that the United States did not veto it.”
Pro-Israeli organizations expressed their own wrath at Obama, who over his last eight years has often sided with the Palestinians over Israel, America’s strongest ally in the region.
“Obama has made it clear that he’s a Jew hating, anti-Semite. He likes Jews who are his friends but not Jews in general,” stated Morton Klein, president of the Zionists Organization of America, the country’s oldest pro-Israel organization, before the vote was taken.
The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the Jewish community’s foreign policy umbrella group, also issued a scathing denunciation.
“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,” conference chairman Stephen Greenberg and its executive vice chairman and CEO Malcolm Hoenlein said in a statement.
The sole supporter for the American vote was the progressive organization of anti-Israel activists at “J Street.” It was the only group to support the U.S. vote, calling the resolution “consistent with longstanding bipartisan American policy.”
The Security Council resolution was introduced today by Venezuela, Malaysia, Senegal and New Zealand after Egypt pulled the resolution yesterday following appeals from Israel and Trump. Malaysia and Senegal are large Muslim countries and Venezuela has adopted harsh anti-American and anti-Israel policies for more than a decade.
The U.S. Mission to the United Nations’s website contained nothing about the administration’s vote.
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