Netanyahu may have missed chance to quash UN vote by not calling UK’s May
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ExclusiveIsraeli PM phoned Putin but not Britain's strikingly pro-Israel leader

Netanyahu may have missed chance to quash UN vote by not calling UK’s May

During failed scramble to sink anti-settlement resolution, he called Boris Johnson, who helped draft the text, but not the British PM, who was reportedly 'blindsided' by her country's support

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Prime Ministers Benjamin Netanyahu and Theresa May (Composite image, Flash 90, AP)
Prime Ministers Benjamin Netanyahu and Theresa May (Composite image, Flash 90, AP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not speak with British Prime Minister Theresa May ahead of last month’s United Nations Security Council resolution, The Times of Israel has established, despite indications that she might have opposed the text, which castigated Israel’s settlement enterprise as illegal and branded all West Bank and Jerusalem land captured by Israel in the 1967 war as occupied Palestinian territory.

In the run-up to the December 23 vote, Netanyahu spoke with UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, but not with May, a spokesperson in the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem confirmed to The Times of Israel.

Johnson was instrumental in drafting Resolution 2334, while May appears to not have known about the content and would possibly have been willing to abstain or even veto the motion.

As a permanent member of the Security Council, Britain, along with Russia, China, France and the US, has a right of veto on its resolutions. Netanyahu did reportedly speak to President Vladimir Putin in a failed attempt to persuade Russia to veto, and implored the US to maintain its traditional policy of vetoing anti-Israel resolutions at the Security Council, but to no avail. The US abstained, escalating years of friction between Netanyahu and President Barack Obama.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Foreign Minister Boris Johnson on September 30, 2016. (GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Foreign Minister Boris Johnson on September 30, 2016. (GPO)

Britain’s Johnson told Parliament on Tuesday that he was” closely involved in [the] drafting,” of the resolution. May, on the other hand, was “blindsided” by the Foreign Office’s support for the resolution, according a lawmaker from her Conservative Party.

Current Finchley and Golders Green MP Mike Freer. (courtesy)
MP Mike Freer (courtesy)

Mike Freer, MP for Finchley and Golders Green, wrote in the UK Jewish News that May was caught off guard by the Foreign Office’s move, and speculated that she may seek to enact reforms to keep a situation like that from happening again.

Days after the UN vote, the British prime minister’s spokesperson issued a highly unusual rebuke of US Secretary of State John Kerry for overly focusing on Israeli settlements during a post-vote December 28 speech in which he defended the US abstention, bitterly attacked the settlement enterprise, and set out his thoughts on how to advance the peace process.

“We do not believe that the way to negotiate peace is by focusing on only one issue, in this case the construction of settlements, when clearly the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians is so deeply complex,” a spokesperson for May said. “And we do not believe that it is appropriate to attack the composition of the democratically elected government of an ally.”

In the statement, May’s office endorsed its longstanding support of a two-state solution and said it supported Resolution 2334 because it considers that settlements in the West “illegal.”

Downing Street has not said how involved it was in the Foreign Office’s decision to help draft and support the resolution.

The UK Prime Minister’s Office and the British Embassy in Tel Aviv did not reply to Times of Israel queries on May’s views on the resolution.

Just a week and half before the Security Council vote, May delivered a speech overflowing with praise and support for Israel. Addressing the Conservative Friends of Israel, the prime minister hailed the Jewish state as “a remarkable country” and “a beacon of tolerance.”

Ties with Jerusalem were “crucial,” she said, promising to raise the bilateral trade relationship to new heights and described the Balfour Declaration as “one of the most important letters in history.”

British Prime Minister Theresa May addresses a Conservative Friends of Israel lunch, December 12, 2016 (Courtesy CFI)
British Prime Minister Theresa May addresses a Conservative Friends of Israel lunch, December 12, 2016 (Courtesy CFI)

Jerusalem reacted furiously to the passage of the resolution, taking diplomatic action against a number of countries that supported the measure. That reportedly included Netanyahu canceling a planned meeting with May at the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, next week. Netanyahu’s office denied having ever made plans to meet with May and last week the prime minister canceled his planned trip to the summit.

Jerusalem says it knew that the US was going to abstain on the UN resolution and has “ironclad” evidence that the US pushed for its passing, claims Washington denies. Netanyahu accused Obama of a shameful ambush of Israel at the UN, accusations that the outgoing president dismissed as false.

Days before the December 23 vote, Netanyahu reached out not only to Johnson but to leaders of other Security Council members as well, amid a frantic diplomatic scramble to quash the resolution.

Samantha Power, center, the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, votes to abstain during a UN Security Council vote on condemning Israel's settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, Friday, Dec. 23, 2016 at United Nations Headquarters. (Manuel Elias/The United Nations via AP)
Samantha Power, center, the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, votes to abstain during a UN Security Council vote on condemning Israel’s settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, Friday, Dec. 23, 2016 at United Nations Headquarters. (Manuel Elias/The United Nations via AP)

Netanyahu reportedly called Putin hours before the vote to persuade him to postpone. It seems Putin partially answered the plea when, less than an hour before the 15-member council was set to cast votes, Russian Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin asked for closed consultations to request a delay on the vote until after the Christmas holiday.

Churkin said Moscow was unhappy with the text and with the timing of the vote — just weeks before a new US administration is set to take power. But Churkin was rebuffed, and Russia ultimately did not come to Netanyahu’s rescue: The vote passed with the 14 votes in favor, including Russia’s, and with the US abstention.

Two days before the vote, Netanyahu had reportedly extended a favor to Russia at the UN, instructing the Israeli UN mission in New York to skip a vote at the General Assembly on a resolution that would have allowed for the establishment of a mechanism to investigate allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria.

This directive reportedly came amid heavy diplomatic pressure from Russia, which is deeply involved in the ongoing Syrian civil war and which did not want its military implicated in any international probes.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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