The Consequences of the Security Council Vote
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
Israel was singled out for by the United Nations for its settlement policy by the U.N. on Friday; the United States abstained and did not veto the resolution. The Government of Israel is furious at the President and the U.S. Government and believes that the Obama Administration’s actions vindicate those who have long suggested that Obama is anti-Israel. The problem with this conclusion, which does not flow from the facts, is that it should never have come to this. A more enlightened and less political approach by the Netanyahu Government towards the President for the past eight years in all likelihood would have created an environment in which there would never have been a serious quarrel over settlements in the Security Council.
Historically speaking U.S. policy towards Israel, certainly since the Six Day War, has been predicated on insuring the safety and security of the State of Israel. This policy does not in any way suggest U.S. support for all political decisions made by Israel which do not effect this premise. It has been and continues to be at the core of U.S. Middle East policy; even in light of the Iran deal.
Similarly the U.S. for almost 50 years has been actively engaged in trying to facilitate a peaceful two-State solution between Israel and her neighbors. Throughout this period, Israel has received extraordinarily generous military and financial support from the U.S. When Israel has acted in ways which were necessitated by internal domestic considerations and not by safety and security considerations, the U.S. Government has not hesitated to criticize Israel for its behavior; case in point being the settlement construction and expansion which the U.S. does not deem to be necessary for Israel’s safety and security nor helpful for the peace process.
Obama and Netanyahu are two very strong personalities who do not like each other. Obama believes that Netanyahu does not sufficiently respect the American political system: that there is one Administration at a time; that there is one President at a time; that foreign policy decisions are made in the White House; and that circumventing this process is an insult to the President and the American people. The Prime Minister thus permitted domestic concerns to override these principles. He made two totally unnecessary mistakes on which he could have conceded and still have come out ahead.
Netanyahu may disagree with U.S. policy but when he disagrees with it—as all sovereign leaders have every right to do–he needs to make his case to the decision-makers. The Congress and the American Jewish community certainly have role, but you cannot behave like a petulant child when you do not get your way with the actual decision-makers; specifically on non-security issues. (Even in the case of their disagreement over the Iran deal, Bibi’s strategy was clearly insulting to the President; good friends must be able to talk and even to disagree and not stomp off in a huff when you do not get your way.)
Second, the consequences of the blow-up over the U.N. vote has three dangerous repercussions. First, so much of the international community which the U.S. has kept largely at bay for years by giving Israel cover, now will feel empowered by America’s abstention to hold Israel to an even higher standard than previously. It will impact Israel economically as well as geo-politically.
Second, the BDS movement which has been intensifying efforts to attack Israel will now view this vote as further affirmation of their strategy to boycott Israel in numerous markets and professional venues.
Finally and most importantly, this vote will strengthen many political forces in the U.S. who have long felt that Israeli demands and political conduct vis-à-vis the U.S. was too demanding and unappreciative. Members of Congress—from the left and the right—will use the political cover created by the U.S. abstention to make life considerably more challenging for Israel in future confrontations with the U.S.; even with the current perception that the Trump Administration will be totally supportive of any of Israel’s future policies.