White House eyeing UN to pressure Israel on peace deal?
Published March 19, 2015
Rift between Obama and Netanyahu widens after election
The White House could soon look to the United Nations to pressure Israel into a peace deal with the Palestinians, a move sure to inflame tensions between President Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu.
The U.S. for years has helped Israel resist U.N. intervention in peace talks. But the Obama administration reportedly is weighing a shift in that approach after Netanyahu’s Likud Party won big in Tuesday’s election, positioning him for a third consecutive term as prime minister.
In an interview with Fox News’ Megyn Kelly, Netanyahu responded to the reports and said he hopes the Obama administration is not looking at going through the U.N.
“I hope that’s not true, and I think that President Obama has said time and time again, as I’ve said, that the only path to a peace agreement is an agreement, a negotiated agreement. You can’t impose it,” he told Fox News. “You can’t force the people of Israel, who’ve just elected me by a wide margin, to bring them peace and security, to secure the State of Israel, to accept terms that would endanger the very survival of the State of Israel. I don’t think that’s the direction of American policy. I hope it’s not.”
Shortly before the election, Netanyahu reversed course and declared he would not allow a Palestinian state on his watch. That puts him at odds with the U.S. government.
Asked repeatedly Wednesday where that leaves U.S. policy, Obama administration officials left the door open. Officials with both the White House and State Department said Obama still supports a two-state solution — but they said the U.S. would now “reevaluate” its approach toward achieving that.
Foreign Policy reported Thursday that the U.S. in fact is looking at supporting a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for peace talks and a comprehensive settlement.
“The more the new [Israeli] government veers to the right the more likely you will see something [at the United Nations] in New York,” a Western diplomat told Foreign Policy.
The consideration of going to the U.N. underscores the growing rift between the Obama and Netanyahu administrations. The two already at odds over a pending Iran nuclear deal, Netanyahu staked out another area of disagreement when he declared his opposition to a Palestinian state.
After the election, the Obama administration made clear it still supports a two-state solution and would work to achieve it — somehow.
Officials would not say whether that means going through the United Nations. But they didn’t rule it out, either.
“Based on PM Netanyahu’s comments we will need to reevaluate our position and the way forward. We’re not going to get ahead of any decisions about what the United States would do with regard to potential action at the U.N. Security Council,” a senior administration official told Fox News on Thursday.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki, asked Wednesday about the possibility of a U.N. resolution, also said they would not “get ahead of any decisions,” but stressed that “a two-state solution is the only way for the next Israeli government to secure Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.”
She said, “We’re not going to prejudge what we would do if there was a U.N. action.”
The prospect of U.N. interference already is raising the hackles of the Israelis.
After a U.N. spokesman on Wednesday said it is “incumbent” on the Israelis to pursue a peace deal and support the creation of a Palestinian State, among other conditions, Israel’s ambassador to the U.N. Ron Prosor fired back.
“The United Nations may disagree with the policies of the Israeli government, but there is one fact that can’t be disputed — that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East,” he said. “If the U.N. is so concerned about the future of the Palestinian people, it should be asking why President Abbas is in the tenth year of a five-year presidential term or why Hamas uses the Palestinian people as human shields.”
The Palestinians had urged the U.N. Security Council to accept a resolution demanding that the Israelis leave Palestinian territories. The U.S. opposed it.
Foreign Policy reported, however, that France is now pressing the U.S. to take another look at a separate resolution, which they offered, calling for resumed peace talks toward a final deal.
Diplomats told Foreign Policy there are still significant differences between the U.S. and French approaches, but suggested they could be resolved. Foreign Policy reports that the U.S. delegation also could simply abstain on a U.N. resolution vote.
The dynamic on the council also has changed in recent months.
When the Security Council last voted on the Arab nation-backed measure to set a deadline for peace talks and Israel’s withdrawal from the territories, supporters could not secure the nine votes needed for adoption from the 15-member council — meaning the U.S., which opposed it, did not have to exercise a veto to block it. However, with Venezuela now on the council, supporters could have the needed nine votes today — forcing the U.S. to make a decision on whether to veto.
Obama has not yet called Netanyahu to congratulate him, though the White House says he will. Secretary of State John Kerry has called the prime minister.
Fox News’ Jonathan Wachtel and Kimberly Schwandt contributed to this report.