President Obama has only four weeks left in office, but that was time enough to throw Israel under the bus one last time. By abstaining at the UN, Obama allowed the Security Council to harshly condemn Israel via a one-sided resolution over settlement expansion, payback from Obama to Benjamin Netanyahu for balking at Obama’s plans for an Israeli-Palestinian settlement. The editorial board of the Washington Post slapped Obama for his “dangerous parting shot,” and predicted that the UN resolution will undermine both the peace process and the UN itself:
A lame-duck White House may feel a radical change in policy is justified by Israel’s shift to the right under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; Israel’s governing coalition is supporting legislation that would legalize dozens of settlements that Israel itself defines as illegal, because they were constructed on private Palestinian property. Mr. Netanyahu supported a partial settlement freeze for 10 months in 2009 and 2010 at Mr. Obama’s behest, but has since allowed construction, including in some areas deep in the West Bank.
Nevertheless, settlements do not explain the administration’s repeated failures to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace. The Palestinian Authority under Mahmoud Abbas proved unwilling to negotiate seriously even during the settlement freeze, and it refused to accept a framework for negotiations painstakingly drawn up by Secretary of State John F. Kerry in 2014. In past negotiations, both sides have acknowledged that any deal will involve the annexation by Israel of settlements near its borders, where most of the current construction takes place — something the U.N. resolution, which was pressed by the Palestinians, did not acknowledge or take into account.
Israeli officials charged that the abstention represented a vindictive parting shot by Mr. Obama at Mr. Netanyahu, with whom he has feuded more bitterly than he did with most U.S. adversaries. The vote could also be seen as an attempt to preempt Mr. Trump, who appears ready to shift U.S. policy to the opposite extreme after naming a militant advocate of the settlements as his ambassador to Israel. Whatever the motivation, Mr. Obama’s gesture is likely to do more harm than good.
The stunt at Turtle Bay is all the more self-serving, because Obama and John Kerry torpedoed any chance of working with Netanyahu. Obama has spent a lot of time and effort decrying alleged Russian influence in our election, but almost two years ago, the State Department under Obama and Kerry actively attempted to do the same thing in Israel to force Netanyahu out of office. A Senate probe concluded this summer that the State Department funneled cash through OneVoice to Victory 15, an Israeli group committed to defeating Netanyahu in the March 2o15 elections.
It’s not as if OneVoice made a mistake. They actively worked to defeat Netanyahu, and still got State Department funding anyway:
All three of the State Department officials that the Subcommittee interviewed stated they first learned of OneVoice’s planned political activity when they read news accounts concerning its “partnership” with V15.109 The Subcommittee asked two State Department officials—a senior official with the NEA Bureau and former Consul General Ratney—what the State Department would have done if, during the grant period, OneVoice had informed State officials that it was planning to launch an anti-Netanyahu campaign to coincide with the next election. Consul General Ratney initially responded that it would have been a “red flag” and State would have stopped the grant if it had known OneVoice was making such plans during the grant period. To do otherwise would have been “crazy,” Mr. Ratney explained, given the State Department’s sensitivities about “messaging.”110 The senior official in the NEA Bureau responded that State likely would have ended the grant and the decision would have “gone up the chain, likely to the Ambassador.”111
The record is clear, however, that OneVoice did inform at least two State Department officials of its political plans, and it did so during the grant period. The Department took no action in response, although it is unclear whether the officials in receipt of the plans reviewed them. In September 2014, three months before the grant period was scheduled to end but after the final payment of U.S. funds to OneVoice Israel on August 25, 2014, Mr. Ginsberg exchanged a number of emails with Consul General Ratney, then the second-highest-ranking American diplomat in the region.112 In that exchange, Mr. Ginsberg said he was in the process of obtaining final PeaceWorks board approval of a “major strategy directed at centrist Israelis” after “quietly bouncing ideas off a lot of folks, including Martin [Indyk] in its preparation.”113 Mr. Ginsberg indicated that he did not “expect much help from the USG [United States Government] in its final phase,” but offered to share the strategy “for friendship sake.”114 Mr. Ratney responded that he would “love to take a look at the strategy.”115
The proposal sent to Mr. Ratney, “A Strategic Plan to Mobilize Centrist Israeli & Palestinian,” was the culmination of months of work and presented a “bold and definable” political option to “[l]aunch a major strategic campaign that could shift a key portion of the Israeli and Palestinian electorates in a direction that would marginalize the extremists on either side,” according to Mr. Ginsberg’s email.116 The proposal outlined the political goals of OneVoice in the next Israeli election, which was yet to be scheduled: “The [center-left] bloc has not been able to unify around a common message, a common agenda, or a strong leader. Our aim is to strengthen the bloc, rather than any one party, [and] in tandem weaken Netanyahu and his right wing parties.”117 Additionally, the proposal listed seven “Specific Israeli Tactical Objectives.”118 The second objective was clear: “Shift support within the Knesset from a Likud-centric coalition to a center left coalition through public education and grassroots mobilization initiatives.”119
The media coverage of this UN vote has almost entirely missed this particular point. They have noted Netanyahu’s defense of settlements and supposed intransigence on the peace process without ever noting that his US partner tried to push him out of office — the same partner who’s currently in high dudgeon over hostile governments attempting to do the same thing here. The purpose of this interference was to get an Israeli prime minister who would adopt Obama’s approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict rather than one who represents the Israelis.
Instead, Netanyahu won a surprise victory, and Obama ended up with egg on his face. It’s difficult to see this stunt at the UN as anything more than a final, impotent, petulant tantrum. This was Obama’s final opportunity to humiliate Netanyahu regardless of the danger it might present to Israelis. It’s one last shameful act in a series from this administration, and it can’t hit the exits fast enough.