President Barack Obama on Monday dismissed the notion that he betrayed Israel at the United Nations Security Council last month by opting not to veto a resolution that branded settlements illegal and called the West Bank and East Jerusalem occupied Palestinian territory. Speaking in an Israeli Channel 2 TV interview, Obama said he had an obligation as president “to do what I think is right.”
In an excerpt of the interview broadcast Monday evening, the outgoing president was asked about Israeli claims that he had orchestrated Resolution 2334, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s specific description of the move as a “shameful, anti-Israeli ploy.” Did he understand the Israeli “sense of betrayal”? interviewer Ilana Dayan asked.
“No,” Obama replied. “I’ll be honest with you: That kind of hyperbole, those kinds of statements, don’t have a basis in fact.
“They may work well with respect to deflecting attention from the problem of settlements,” the president continued. “They may play well with Bibi’s political base, as well as the Republican base here in the United States, but they don’t match up with the facts.”
Pressed on whether allowing the resolution to pass was the right thing to do so soon before the end of his presidency, Obama responded: “The fact of the matter is that I’m president until January 20, and I have an obligation to do what I think is right.”
Obama was asked whether he had more surprises up his sleeve or whether Netanyahu could sleep soundly until January 20. “Well, I think there’s an interesting question as to whether he’ll sleep better after January 20,” Obama responded dryly, intimating that relations between Netanyahu and incoming president Trump might not be as trouble-free as some in the Israeli leadership may be anticipating.
The full interview, conducted at the White House, is to be screened on Tuesday. Dayan said Obama, in the conversation, took pains to say that Netanyahu had a friend in the White House for eight years but didn’t recognize the fact, and also that the US was deeply committed to Israel, but critically to an Israel that respects human rights.
The US abstention at the Security Council on December 23 allowed Resolution 2334 to pass, with a vote of 14-0. Netanyahu led a furious response that included summoning ambassadors of countries that backed the resolution for a dressing down on Christmas Day, and a one-to-one with US Ambassador Dan Shapiro.
Ties between Netanyahu and Obama have been tense through their years in power, especially over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the settlement enterprise, and the nuclear deal that Obama and other P5+1 countries reached in 2015 with Iran.