Israeli officials approached US President-elect Donald Trump to assist them in thwarting an anti-settlement UN Security Council resolution, after Jerusalem failed to convince the White House to veto the bid, a senior Israeli official said Thursday.
Trump’s public injection into a US foreign policy decision before taking office — credited as a factor behind Egypt suddenly pulling the draft resolution — was seen as a highly unusual move, and reports of Israel attempting to end-around US President Barack Obama would represent a likely unprecedented gambit, highlighting a sense of desperation telegraphed by Jerusalem in its frantic effort to stop the vote.
The senior Israeli official, quoted by CNN, said Jerusalem went to Trump after failing to make headway with taking its case to the White House.
Officials in Jerusalem “implored the White House not to go ahead (and allow the Egyptian-drafted anti-settlement resolution to pass by not using its veto) and told them that if they did, we would have no choice but to reach out to President-elect Trump,” the source said.
“We did reach out to the president-elect and are deeply appreciative that he weighed in, which was not a simple thing to do,” the official said.
The report came on the heels of indications from sources quoted by NBC News and Reuters that the US intended to abstain from the vote instead of casting its usual veto on Israel-related resolutions, a sign of President Barack Obama’s desire to shake up moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts in the waning days of his administration.
An Israeli official quoted by Reuters confirmed that Israel approached the Trump team at a “high level” over the issue, claiming that Washington had long coordinated its planned abstention with the Palestinians.
“It was a violation of a core commitment to protect Israel at the UN,” the official said.
“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.
Israel’s Channel 2 quoted a Jerusalem official saying Obama had planned a diplomatic “hit” on Netanyahu and the settlements, and that Trump intervened with Sissi to prevent it.
On Thursday morning, Trump urged Obama to block the measure, issuing a statement nearly identical to one issued hours earlier by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“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,” Trump said in a statement on Facebook. “This puts Israel in a very poor negotiating position and is extremely unfair to all Israelis.”
Trump also spoke to Egyptian president Abdel Fatah el-Sissi about the UN draft resolution, an official in Cairo said.
“During the call they discussed regional affairs and developments in the Middle East and in that context the draft resolution in front of the Security Council on Israeli settlement,” said presidency spokesman Alaa Yousef, according to Reuters.
“The presidents agreed on the importance of affording the new US administration the full chance to deal with all dimensions of the Palestinian case with a view of achieving a full and final settlement,” Yousef added.
Netanyahu spoke to US Secretary of State John Kerry Thursday, State Department Spokesperson John Kirby said, though it was not clear if they spoke before or after Egypt said it was pulling the vote.
“Clearly they talked about this resolution – this draft resolution. Obviously they did, but I’m not going to detail the conversation that they had,” Kirby said.
Netanyahu has spoken positively of Trump and his incoming pro-settlement envoy David Friedman, seeing them as a welcome change after years of an acrimonious relationship with the Obama administration. However, Washington has refused to endorse anti-Israel resolutions in the council, saying the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should be resolved through negotiations.
A potential US abstention coupled with Israel’s asking Trump to intervene on its behalf would likely be seen as a fresh nadir in ties between Netanyahu’s Jerusalem and Obama’s Washington, the final chapter of a tome of bitter public fights over Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and the Iran nuclear deal.
A report on Israel’s Channel 2 Thursday indicated that Jerusalem viewed the intended US decision to abstain as a “[diplomatic] hit by Obama against Netanyahu and the settlements,” quoting a senior Israeli official.
The source said Trump’s team had been approached by Netanyahu for assistance in thwarting the resolution.
Palestinian ambassador Riyad Mansour said Trump’s call for a veto was in response to pressure from the Israeli prime minister. “He is acting on behalf of Netanyahu,” he said.
The specter of the US allowing the resolution to pass set off frantic lobbying by Israel to pressure Egypt to drop the bid.
Egypt also came under heavy diplomatic pressure from Israel directly, according to Reuters.
Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon said his government was deploying “diplomatic efforts on all fronts to ensure that this disgraceful resolution will not pass in the Security Council.”
A UN diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, dubbed the Israeli lobbying a “diplomatic World War III” and a senior Security Council diplomat suggested that the motion could be buried indefinitely.
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.
A Security Council resolution would be more than symbolic since it carries the weight of international law.