What the UN vote says about how Trump will treat Israel

Story highlights

  • UN vote offers a glimpse of Trump-Netanyahu relationship
  • Trump has clearly stated his intention to engineer a sharp shift in US policy toward Israel

Washington (CNN)It's Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu against the world.

A dramatic vote Friday at the United Nations Security Council likely marked the final chapter in President Barack Obama's troubled relationship with Netanyahu.
But perhaps more importantly, the vote -- in which the United States allowed a resolution condemning Israeli settlement construction to pass -- offered a glimpse of how the President-elect and the Israeli Prime Minister are poised to soon overhaul the relationship between their two countries.
Trump and Netanyahu stood shoulder-to-shoulder this week. In days of tense diplomatic maneuvering ahead of the vote, the Israelis enlisted Trump in a bid to stop the measure in its tracks, a striking attempt to pressure the outgoing administration. Trump's response -- a tweet, a statement calling for a US veto and a call with Egypt's President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, whose government originally drew up the resolution -- previewed where he will steer US-Israeli policy.
The Trump-Netanyahu alliance flouts traditional protocol regarding how foreign governments and presidents-in-waiting act. It didn't prevail -- for now -- as the resolution passed on a 14-0 vote, with the US abstaining. The vote was a blow for Israel as the world effectively lined up to censure its settlement building in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, which many nations see as an obstacle to stalled peace talks and the ever more elusive notion of a Palestinian state.
Still, Trump and Netanyahu charted the future course of US-Israeli relations after Trump is inaugurated.
"As to the U.N., things will be different after Jan. 20th," Trump tweeted after the vote.
On Saturday, Trump tweeted, "The big loss yesterday for Israel in the United Nations will make it much harder to negotiate peace. Too bad, but we will get it done anyway!"

Relishing the Trump administration

The Israelis, who accused the Obama administration of abandoning a longtime US ally, made no secret of their relish at the prospect of a new administration.
"Israel looks forward to working with President-elect Trump and with all our friends in Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, to negate the harmful effects of this absurd resolution," Netanyahu's office said in a statement.
Obama's foes in Israel and in Congress, meanwhile, argued that by failing to veto the resolution, the outgoing President was turning his back on diplomatic precedent under which Washington has shielded Israel at the UN. (Presidents of both parties have allowed resolutions that were at least somewhat critical of Israel over the Palestinian question to pass during their tenure.)
Trump, however, has clearly stated his intention to engineer a sharp shift in US policy toward Israel, aligning his administration closer to Netanyahu's right-wing Likud-led coalition.
He has vowed to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, breaking with the practice of several of his predecessors who campaigned saying they would move the embassy during their campaigns but balked once they were in the White House.
Critics of moving the embassy say doing so would inflame Arab opinion and make it impossible for the US to ever be a broker between Israel and the Palestinians in future. The Palestinians see Jerusalem, which is sacred to Islam, Christianity and Judaism, as the future capital of their proposed future state.
Trump's nominee to become the next ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, has been an outspoken supporter of settler groups and has cast doubt on the notion of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.
The reset of relations that Trump is promising has notable support in the United States, particularly in Congress, where lawmakers condemned Obama's failure to wield the US veto at the UN. Even some Democrats, including incoming Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, questioned the administration's move.
The President-elect's reorientation of US-Israeli relations could have unpredictable results internationally.
A decision to move the US embassy, for example, would cause outrage among Palestinians and could erupt into violence. It would also likely pile pressure on Arab allies of the US to condemn the move, complicating Trump's other priorities -- notably getting more buy-in from US allies in the Gulf for an escalated operation to crush ISIS.
Moving the embassy and a shift toward Netanyahu could cause fissures with Trump's relations with some European allies already deeply perturbed by his election. It could also intensify interest around the world in the boycott, divestments and sanctions movement (BDS) led by Palestinians to punish Israel.

Footnote for history

While Trump and Netanyahu used the UN resolution to make a statement about the future, the Obama administration was constructing a footnote for history.
The US decision not to veto the move was a clear statement of frustration with Israel because the administration believes its two failed efforts to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians foundered on a refusal by the Israeli government to renounce settlement building.
"It was a parting shot in defense of what the Obama administration and Secretary (of State John) Kerry believe to be the waning hopes of a two-state solution," Aaron David Miller, a former Middle East adviser to Democratic and Republican presidents, told CNN.
It was a clear shot at Netanyahu, with whom Obama has had an antagonistic relationship.
The Israeli leader once memorably lectured Obama on Jewish history before the cameras in the Oval Office to the fury of the President's aides. He overtly rooted for Republican Mitt Romney in Obama's 2012 re-election race and used his extensive contacts on Capitol Hill in an effort to derail the central foreign policy initiative of the President's second term: the Iran nuclear deal.
The Obama administration is leaving no doubt that they believe Trump is putting the United States on an unwise course in the Middle East. Speaking after the Security Council vote, Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the UN, delivered a veiled warning to the Trump administration that it was about to flout decades of US foreign policy.
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"The United States has been sending the message that the settlements must stop privately and publicly for nearly five decades, through the administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush -- and now Barack Obama," she said.
Other White House officials aired their frustration that Trump acted so boldly on the global stage before he assumes the presidency. Ben Rhodes, Obama's deputy national security adviser, said Friday "there's one president at a time."
"President Obama is the President of the United States," Rhodes said. "Trump's team will have every opportunity after January 20th to pursue their own policies. ... I'm certain they will on a number of issues."