WASHINGTON — Following the US decision to abstain from an anti-settlements resolution at the United Nations Security Council on Friday, President Barack Obama’s deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could have avoided such an outcome had he not allowed for and boasted about increased settlement expansion on his watch.
“Netanyahu had the opportunity to pursue policies that would have led to a different outcome today,” Rhodes said on a media conference call, after citing US governmental figures on settlement growth in the West Bank and mentioning the Israeli premier’s past statements on his government’s allegiance to the settlement movement.
Rhodes said that settlement activity “accelerated considerably” since the US vetoed a similar UN resolution in 2011, leading the US to believe that taking the same course of action — absent ongoing peace talks — would not yield different results.
“In the absence of any meaningful peace process, as well as in the accelerated settlement activity,” he said, “we took the decision that we did today to abstain on the resolution.”
Rhodes repeatedly referred to settlement growth as creating “trend lines” the US believed was “putting the very viability of a two-state solution at risk.” While settlements, he acknowledged, were not the only issue obstructing the prospects of peace, the resolution also incorporated language critical of Palestinian incitement and violence.
Because of that language and the way the rest of the text was narrowly focused enough on settlement growth, Obama was prepared to support it.
“We would have vetoed any resolution that would impose a final-status issue or endorse a set of parameters,” Rhodes emphasized.
But recent remarks from Israeli leaders, he said, exacerbated American concerns.
“Absent this acceleration of settlement activity, absent the type of rhetoric we’ve seen out of the current Israeli government, I think the United States likely would have taken a different view,” he stated.
Netanyahu’s statement earlier this month calling his cabinet “more committed than any other” to West Bank settlements was among the remarks the United States found troubling, he said.
That stance appeared on the prime minister’s Facebook page (Hebrew) along with an appeal to residents of the illegal West Bank outpost of Amona to leave peacefully ahead of the court-ordered evacuation, initially set for December 25, but now postponed until February 8.
Rhodes also cited the head of the nationalist Jewish Home party, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, claiming “the era of the two-state solution is over” following President-elect Donald Trump’s upset victory last month over Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.
Clinton had voiced opposition to Israeli settlement construction as both a candidate and as former secretary of state in Obama’s first term.
The Obama administration had repeatedly made it clear to the Israeli government over the last eight years that expanding settlements would subject it to the opprobrium it experienced on Friday, Rhodes stressed.
“We’ve been warning for years that the trend line of settlement activity was increasing Israel’s international isolation,” he said,
Rhodes also rejected Israeli accusations that the US colluded with the Palestinians to bring the resolution forward.
‘We’ve been warning for years that the trend line of settlement activity was increasing Israel’s international isolation’
“We did not draft this resolution; we did not introduce this resolution. we made this decision when it came up for a vote.”
But because of the administration’s consistent opposition with settlement activity and concern for what it could ultimately mean for the region, the US “could not in good conscience veto.”
Claims raised by Israel that the measure was “cooked up” were “full of inaccuracies and falsehoods,” Rhodes said. “When the Egyptians introduced the resolution, we did not indicate to any of the UN Security Council how we would vote on that resolution. The notion that we were somehow involved in drafting this is just not true.”
The US also recognized that “the Palestinians have missed plenty of opportunities under this administration, as well,” and Rhodes cited issues such as incitement and terrorism as obstacles to peace along with the settlement issue.
Past presidents have abstained from UN Security Council resolutions critical of Israel. Defending Obama’s actions, Rhodes stressed that, up until this point, his boss was the first in decades not to allow a single resolution through during his time in office.
The reason for the change now, he said, was that the administration “exhausted every effort to pursue a two-state solution through negotiations,” alluding to the 2013-2014 push by US Secretary of State John Kerry to reach a final-status agreement in a nine-month time frame, as well as other efforts since 2009.
Frank Lowenstein, the State Department’s special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, who was also on the call, said Kerry may give a speech laying out his vision for what a negotiated two-state solution might look like and how it may be achieved, but indicated he would not be releasing the March 2014 framework.
Kerry released a statement after the vote, indicating that in the coming days, he would “speak further to the vote in the Security Council today and share more detailed thoughts, drawn from the experience of the last several years, on the way ahead.”
Addressing South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham’s threat to “form a bipartisan coalition to suspend or significantly reduce United States assistance to the United Nations” if the resolution made it through, Rhodes said that would only hurt US interests.
“The United States would only be hurting itself by seeking to hurt the United Nations,” he said. “All we would be doing is hurting other people, hurting our own interests.”