Benjamin Netanyahu is waging diplomatic war against the world, and notably against Israel’s only vital ally, the United States. We’ve never seen anything like it. It won’t win Israel any new friends.

Israel has a solitary vote in the United Nations General Assembly, and no vote at all at the United Nations Security Council. Israel was annihilated in the Security Council vote on Friday that demanded an end to all settlement activity and that designated all the land that Israel captured from Jordan in the 1967 war, which includes the Temple Mount and the Western Wall, as “occupied Palestinian territory.” The prime minister’s hope is that he can stave off further, and still more devastating, potential diplomatic defeat at the hands of the outgoing Obama administration via a mixture of pleas, threats and boycotts. On the horizon, he sees the incoming administration of Donald J. Trump. For Netanyahu, it cannot arrive soon enough.

Netanyahu’s repeated public assertion is that US President Barack Obama hatched the entire scheme to humiliate and abandon Israel at the Security Council. Why would a president who had just authorized the biggest military aid package to Israel in history do any such thing? Because, the prime minister has implied, Obama is fundamentally hostile to the Jewish state. Netanyahu hasn’t (yet) said this explicitly. He has, however, drawn a parallel between Friday’s decision by Obama to abstain, and thus facilitate the passage of UNSC Resolution 2334, and similar action by president Jimmy Carter at the Security Council in 1980, and noted that Carter was “deeply hostile to Israel.”

We will almost certainly find out one day, probably quite soon, whether, as Netanyahu has charged, Obama planned this “ambush” all along. Tellingly, in remarks to the Saban Forum earlier this month, Secretary of State John Kerry left open the door to a US abstention: “There are any number of countries talking about bringing resolutions to the United Nations,” Kerry noted. “If it’s biased and unfair, and a resolution calculated to delegitimize Israel, we’ll oppose it. Obviously, we will. We always have. But it’s getting more complicated now…”

 

The administration insists, by contrast, in the words of deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes, “We did not draft this resolution; we did not introduce this resolution. We made this decision when it came up for a vote.”

There can be little doubt, however, that a number of very recent moves by Netanyahu made that abstention — that decision by Obama, for the first time in his presidency, to allow an anti-Israel resolution to pass at the Security Council — more likely.

Obama’s UN envoy, Samantha Power, cited in her post-vote address the prime minister’s recent delighted public claim that his government is “more committed to settlements than any in Israel’s history.” More specifically, she referenced the current legislative moves in Israel to retroactively legalize dozens of West Bank settlement outposts — legislation that Israel’s own attorney general warns is in breach of international law, and that Netanyahu had himself previously opposed.

On the Thursday before the fateful Friday, furthermore, Netanyahu took the extraordinary step of reaching out to not-yet-president Trump, pleading for his intervention to thwart the resolution. If Obama was still, by any chance, wavering, news that the president-elect he ridiculed and fought so bitterly on behalf of candidate Clinton was moving prematurely into his territory could only have helped make up his mind.

Whose Jerusalem?

Some of Netanyahu’s outrage is well-founded. The entire international community rejects the settlement enterprise and always has — no surprises there. But much of that international community ought at least to demonstrate to the Jewish state some solidarity when it comes to Jerusalem. Netanyahu is understandably aggrieved that those 12 Security Council countries with whom Israel has diplomatic relations voted in favor of a resolution that determines all parts of Jerusalem captured by Israel in the 1967 war to be “occupied Palestinian territory,” and that the US allowed it through.
There was, by contrast, no explicit reference to the need to determine Jerusalem’s future in negotiations, nor even to the city’s resonance for all faiths, in Samantha Power’s extensive presentation on Friday. In 2009, when Obama went to Cairo, he was rightly criticized for failing to stress, in his outreach speech to the Muslim world, the Jewish nation’s historical rootedness to Israel, the holy land, the ancient capital. Nothing seems to have been learned in the interim.In the summer of 1980, when the “deeply hostile” Carter was in office and Israel had just annexed the Old City and East Jerusalem, the US abstained and thus enabled the passage of Resolution 478, which also related to “Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since June 1967, including Jerusalem.” But at least secretary of state Muskie stressed, in addressing the Security Council, that “the question of Jerusalem must be addressed in the context of negotiations for a comprehensive, just and lasting Middle East peace…” and that this resolution “fails to serve the goals of all faiths that look upon Jerusalem as holy.” He admonished the council to the effect that “we must share a common vision of that ancient city’s future — an undivided Jerusalem, with free access to the Holy Places for people of all faiths.”

Failed tactics

Outrage aside, however, the failed pre-vote diplomatic maneuvering by Netanyahu gives credence to those of his critics who argue that he has entered panic mode. For all the serenity and confidence he exudes in his public appearances, and for all that he is appeasing parts of his right-wing constituency — a critical imperative for retaining power — his tactics on Thursday were a mess, and he now seems to be deepening the damage.

While you might justify calling in the next president to thwart the current president if you’ve thought the high-risk gambit all the way through, you’re going to look worse than foolish if you fail to do your homework and wind up losing.

And that’s exactly what happened. Trump answered Netanyahu’s call, reached out to Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, and the resolution was withdrawn. A Pyrrhic victory. Within hours, Senegal, Venezuela, Malaysia and New Zealand had stepped in to advance the very same resolution, and there was nothing that even the president-elect could do about that. So Trump wasted his pre-presidential capital, Sissi was humiliated, and Israel lost the vote.