The effort to push through an anti-settlements resolution at the United Nations Security Council on Thursday constituted a diplomatic “hit” by US President Barack Obama against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the settlement enterprise, according to a senior source in Jerusalem quoted by Israeli television on Thursday night.
The resolution, introduced by Egypt overnight Wednesday-Thursday, was withdrawn by Cairo hours before it was scheduled for a vote on Thursday evening.
According to Israel’s Channel 2, Egypt agreed to withdraw the resolution after President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi was sent “messages” by President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team urging him to do so.
An Egyptian diplomatic source told Reuters that Cairo may have withdrawn the resolution in order to maintain positive ties with the incoming Trump administration. “We [Arab states] are all looking for a way to ensure constructive relations with this new administration. It’s not clear if this (resolution) helps that, or if it might even hinder,” the unnamed diplomat said.
Unconfirmed reports earlier Thursday claimed the Obama Administration was preparing to abstain on the vote, and wouldn’t employ its veto.
Secretary of State John Kerry had been scheduled to give an address, at which he was reportedly preparing to explain the diplomatic gambit, but that speech was canceled when Egypt withdrew the resolution.
“After becoming aware that the (US administration) would not veto the anti-Israel resolution, Israeli officials reached out to Trump’s transition team to ask for the president-elect’s help to avert the resolution,” an Israeli official told AFP on Friday.
Arab foreign ministers were meeting in Cairo late Thursday to discuss next steps in the diplomatic tussle, and the same resolution, or others, could yet be introduced within hours or days.
Cairo’s decision to withdraw the resolution marked the first fruits of “cooperation between Trump and Netanyahu against Obama,” Channel 2 reported.
It said Netanyahu sought the assistance of the US president-elect earlier on Thursday, as part of an intensive diplomatic outreach to thwart the resolution, which called for a complete halt to Israeli settlement activity, and potentially paved the way for sanctions pressure against Israel. Trump publicly urged the Obama administration to veto the resolution; privately, said Channel 2, the Trump team conveyed messages to Cairo to withdraw the text.
Tellingly, noted Channel 2, President Barack Obama had yet to declare, as of late Thursday, how the US would have voted on the resolution.
In an address to the Saban Forum earlier this month, during which he castigated the settlement enterprise, Kerry had left open the possibility that the US might not block a resolution if it was not deemed to be biased against Israel.
“All the signs show that this was a [diplomatic] hit by Obama against Netanyahu and the settlements,” the TV report quoted the senior Israeli official saying.
While that “hit” was temporarily halted, the tussle at the UN Security Council is not over, it added.
The Netanyahu government has been braced for the possibility of the Obama Administration enabling a move against settlements. That concern will persist until the presidential handover on January 20.
PM Netanyahu: Israelis deeply appreciate the willingness over many years of the US to stand up in the UN and veto anti-Israel resolutions. pic.twitter.com/sAquM91tql
— PM of Israel (@IsraeliPM) December 22, 2016
Just before the delay was announced, Netanyahu called on the US to veto the resolution. In a video statement, the Israeli prime minister implored the Obama administration to “stand up in the UN and veto anti-Israel resolutions,” designating that position “one of the great pillars of the US-Israel alliance.”
“I hope the US won’t abandon this policy,” he said. “I hope it will abide by the principles set by President Obama himself in his speech in the UN in 2011: That peace will come not through UN resolutions, but only through direct negotiations between the parties. And that’s why this proposed resolution is bad. It’s bad for Israel; it’s bad for the United States and it’s bad for peace.”
Earlier in the day, Trump had weighed in, calling the resolution “extremely unfair” to Israelis.
“As the United States has long maintained, peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians will only come through direct negotiations between the parties, and not through the imposition of terms by the United Nations,” he said on Facebook.
If the resolution were passed, it would put “Israel in a very poor negotiating position and is extremely unfair to all Israelis,” he added.
The UN draft resolution submitted by Cairo called on Israel to “immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem.”
It further expressed “grave concern that continuing Israeli settlement activities are dangerously imperiling the viability of the two-state solution,” and called on all states “to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967,” which some analysts say invites boycotts of Israeli settlements goods.
The draft also condemned “all acts of violence against civilians, including acts of terror, as well as all acts of provocation, incitement and destruction,” which some in the international community understand as turning the resolution into a “balanced” text.
The US vetoed a similar resolution at the United Nations in 2011.
Eric Cortellessa and AP contributed to this report