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Trump slams UN, Netanyahu remains defiant

December 27, 2016

Donald Trump has taken to Twitter to criticize the UN over a vote on illegal Israeli settlements. Israel has, meanwhile, continued its hardline response despite critics pointing out it may further isolate the country.

Treffen Obama Netanjahu
Image: Reuters/K. Lamarque

US President-elect Donald Trump criticized the United Nations for being a club for people to "have a good time," even as the world body leads humanitarian responses affecting millions of desperate people in war-torn regions across the globe.

In an apparent response to the UN Security Council vote on Friday condemning Israel's illegal settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, Trump again made controversial statements on Twitter slamming the UN on Monday.

"The United Nations has such great potential but right now it is just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time. So sad!" Trump wrote as he spends the holidays at his plush Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.

After the Security Council vote, Trump warned on Friday, "As to the UN, things will be different after Jan. 20th," referring to the day he takes office. The Republican leadership in congress, meanwhile, has threatened to cut funding to the UN.

The US abstention from voting opened the way for the Security Council on Friday to pass a 14-0 resolution demanding "Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including east Jerusalem."

The resolution said the settlements had "no legal validity" and were "dangerously imperiling the viability of the two-state solution." Most countries, including Germany, consider settlements illegal.

While the resolution is largely symbolic and imposes no sanctions, Israel worries it could open the way for the Jewish state to be challenged in the International Criminal Court. Some in the country also fear the resolution could lead to economic action targeting goods produced in Israeli settlements and weaken its negotiating position in any peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

Israel has responded to the resolution by accusing the Obama administration of organizing and coordinating the vote, marking a low point in relations between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama in the final month of his term. The United States has traditionally used its veto at the UN Security Council to provide diplomatic cover for Israel.

Critics of Israel's statements against the United States point to the nearly $3 billion (2.9 billion euros) a year in US military aid to Israel that helps fund the occupation of Palestinian territory. The US and Israel recently signed a 10-year deal that will increase aid to $3.8 billion a year.

Temporarily reduced relations

Netanyahu, who is also Israel's foreign minister, has ordered officials to "temporarily reduce" ties with 12 countries that supported the resolution, Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said Tuesday. Israel will also review funding and cooperation with UN institution, the ministry said.

Israel has already canceled a visit by Ukraine's prime minister that was scheduled for Wednesday and shelved a visit from Senegal's foreign minister. 

The Israeli prime minister's response to the security resolution has drawn criticism that his hard-line policies may backfire.

"The prime minister was bragging about our foreign relations, and now what’s underway is a total collapse of Israeli foreign policy," Yitzhak Herzog, co-chair of Israel’s largest opposition party, said on Monday. He has been a sharp critic of Netanyahu's clashes with Obama and refusal to start talks with the Palestinians.

Responding to the criticism on Monday, Netanyahu told a conference that "not only will our relations with the nations of the world not be harmed, over time they will only improve because the nations of the world respect strong countries that stand up for themselves and do not respect weak ingratiating countries that bow their heads."

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely told army radio on Tuesday that she was concerned that Israel would miss opportunities to explain its position by reducing contact with other countries.

But she added that "you can't take Israel for granted." Countries should not be able to "make pilgrimages to Israel to learn about fighting terror, cyberdefense and agricultural technologies, and in the UN do whatever you want," she said.

Jerusalem 'unfazed' by UN

In response to the resolution, several right-wing members of the government have suggested Israel should annex parts of the West Bank, including east Jerusalem, which Palestinians consider the capital of a future state. Despite the condemnation of settlements, Jerusalem's Municipality is preparing to approve thousands of new housing units in the eastern part of the city later this week.

"We remain unfazed by the UN vote, or by any other entity that tries to dictate what we do in Jerusalem," Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Meir Turgeman, who heads the zoning committee, told the pro-Netanyahu daily "Israel Hayom" week. "I hope the Israeli government and the new US administration will support us, so we can make up for the lack (of construction) during the eight years of the Obama administration."

There are nearly 600,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank and east Jerusalem living amid some 3 million Palestinians. The settlements include those that Israel considers legal as well as at least 100 "wild cat" outposts that the Israeli right wants to legalize. 

Since the 1993 peace agreement between Israel and Palestine, the number of settlements has increased threefold, threatening the viability of a two-state solution. The settlements have turned the land of a future Palestinian state into a patchwork marked by Jewish-only roads, security barriers and military checkpoints.

Israel's settlement policies have been a major impediment to restarting Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, casting into doubt Israel's motives and commitments to a two-state solution.

"We cannot stand in the way of this resolution as we seek to preserve a chance of attaining our longstanding objective of two states living side by side in peace and security," said Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the UN.  "The settlement problem has gotten so much worse that it is now putting at risk the very viability of that two-state solution."

Varying views of talks in France

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has refused to restart peace talks as long as Israel continues its settlement policy. In his first public comments on the resolution on Tuesday, Abbas said the  UN "decision lays the foundation for any future serious negotiation ... and it paves the way for the international peace conference slated to be held in Paris next month and we hope this conference comes up with a mechanism and timetable to end the occupation."

On January 15, France is expected to hold a Middle East conference where dozens of countries may support an international framework for a peace process between Israel and Palestine. Netanyahu opposes international interference, arguing it would undermine and prejudge any negotiation process.

Israel wants bi-lateral talks with no pre-conditions and is concerned the settlement resolution will strengthen the Palestinians' negotiating position. For now, Netanyahu has signaled he is waiting for Trump and the Republican-controlled US Congress to take office in Washington.

Trump has said he wants to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a move likely to enrage Muslim countries.  His controversial choice for US ambassador to Israel, his hard-line bankruptcy lawyer David Friedman, is a staunch supporter of settlement building and moving the US embassy to Jerusalem.

cw/sms (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)