At the recent White House Chanukah parties — the last such affairs under the outgoing Obama administration — there were smiles and warm feelings all around between the president and American Jews. That was in keeping with the administration’s oft-repeated assertion that it is the most supportive of Israel in history. That the White House has been so vocal on this point throughout some rather public disagreements with the Jewish state, particularly over the Iran nuclear deal, was a phenomenon frequently explained and supported by the high level of cooperation between Israel’s defense establishment and the Pentagon.
Given the events of late last week, however, one can’t help but wonder just how deep and how sincere the administration’s professed support of Israel really is. More to the point, what exactly was President Obama thinking when less than a month before leaving office — and with all the death and destruction being wrought in other parts of the world — he refused to veto a U.N. Security Council resolution that declares Israeli settlements in lands acquired in the Six Day War as a “flagrant violation [of] international law”? What drove the U.S. abstention on what was so clearly a one-sided resolution? And what caused the reversal of established and repeatedly confirmed U.S. foreign policy, which maintained (up until last week) that the only solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict lies in negotiation?
Could this dramatic departure really have been driven by so petty an issue as Obama’s personal animosity toward Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu? Frankly, we’re not sure. But there doesn’t seem to be any better explanation.
The administration has gone to great lengths to try to justify its actions, amid reports that Washington greenlighted the resolution and encouraged its presentation to the Security Council. According to Secretary of State John Kerry, the resolution made sense, since it was designed to preserve the two-state solution. The assertion was almost universally challenged by pro-Israel supporters on the left and the right, who all argued (for different reasons) that the resolution likely destroyed any remaining prospects for peace and will likely drive Israelis and Palestinians farther apart.
Opinions abound on what drove Obama to do what he did, what other things he might do before he leaves office, and the likely success of efforts on Capitol Hill to undo Obama’s parting shots. And no one knows what actual steps will be taken by President-elect Donald Trump, his new foreign policy team and his new ambassador to Israel, although trends seem to point in a generally more pro-Israel direction.
This much is certain: U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon admitted earlier this month that the international body unfairly targets Israel. Yes it does — and this time, with the support of the U.S. president. Although Trump promises to usher in a new era of American and Israeli cooperation, the outgoing administration seems hell-bent on making that a tough climb.