The Cable

UNSC Vote on West Bank Settlements Delayed, Possibly Indefinitely

A delay would give the Trump administration time -- as welcomed by Tel Aviv -- to begin a dramatic shift from Obama’s Israel policies.

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The U.N. Security Council was supposed to vote Thursday on ending the construction of Israeli settlements in territory seized by Israel during the 1967 war. The U.N. maintains that settlement in such areas is illegal, but Israel has continued construction. And so, Wednesday night, Egypt put forth a proposal that would have demanded an end to the construction of settlements decided the matter more definitely, leaving Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to tweet that the United States should veto what he characterized as an “anti-Israel resolution.”

However, it now seems that the Security Council vote will be delayed — perhaps until Friday, perhaps longer. And if it is much longer — that is, if it is delayed until the point at which U.S. President-elect Donald Trump takes office in less than a month — then the resolution, which would require nine votes and no vetoes, will not pass.

In a Thursday morning statement, Trump said the Security Council resolution “puts Israel in a very poor negotiating position and is extremely unfair to all Israelis.”

“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. That settlement status should be determined in negotiations, and not by U.N. resolution, is also the position of the current Israeli government.

Incidentally, this is also the position of Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee and the State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee. “The Israeli-Palestinian conflict should not be internationalized,” Lowey said in a statement Thursday. “Only the parties themselves can resolve their complicated differences through direct negotiations. The proposed resolution will not further the cause of peace.” This is perhaps the lone issue on which Trump and Lowey, a long-time campaigner for Hillary Clinton, agree.

But, more importantly to the future of this particular resolution, it is also likely the position of South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, Trump’s pick for U.S. ambassador to the U.N. After it was announced that Haley was Trump’s pick to represent the United States in New York, the Times of Israel headlined a story heralding Haley as “pro-Israel.”

Haley was critical of the Iran deal, and signed into law a bill that would stop the boycott of, divestment from, and sanctioning of Israel (BDS) in South Carolina. (It should perhaps here be noted that opposition to the movement is not exclusive to the American right wing; in May of this year, Italy pushed back against BDS by bringing a delegation of Israeli academics and researchers  to the country).

It is perhaps safe to say, then, that Haley will not censure Israel from the floor of the U.N., just as many might safely surmise that the next American ambassador to Israel will not criticize the Mideast country during his time in it.

David Friedman, Trump’s choice as next ambassador to Israel, is a controversial hardliner who has levied harsh criticisms against political figures and organizations who don’t, in his view, support Israel strongly enough. He’s accused the Obama administration, which weathered a rocky and tense relationship with Israel over the past eight years, of “blatant anti-Semitism.” He also called the liberal Jewish advocacy organization J Street “far worse than kapos” in a June op-ed referring to the slang term for concentration camp inmates who did the will of their Nazi guards.

It wasn’t just that Trump picked Friedman that surprised many Middle East experts, but also that he tapped the envoy so early in the transition process. “I can’t recall an ambassadorial appointment to such a sensitive diplomatic post being made this early in a transition,” Aaron David Miller, a former State Department adviser on Arab-Israeli relations to both Republican and Democratic administrations, wrote for Foreign Policy.

“When it comes to the U.S.-Israel relationship, we’re in for a dramatic change,” he wrote.

Photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/AFP/Getty Images

Emily Tamkin is a staff writer at Foreign Policy covering ambassadorial and diplomatic affairs in Washington. @emilyctamkin

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. @robbiegramer

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