President Obama boxed in Trump with U.N. abstention on Israel vote

Here’s a question to ponder: if Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonIntercept DC bureau chief says Biden picks are 'same people' from Obama years The Hill's 12:30 Report - Third vaccine candidate with 90% efficacy Biden won — so why did Trump's popularity hit its highest point ever? MORE had won the election, would the Obama administration still have abstained from vetoing the UN Security Council resolution that condemned Israeli settlement activity as a major obstacle to the two-state solution?

We can never know with certainty the answer to a counterfactual question. Still, my strong intuition is that the answer is “no”; the resolution, I think, would have been vetoed. The implications of that answer are troubling.

Clinton has been a very strong supporter of Israel throughout her political career. During the presidential campaign, the firmness of that support was fully displayed. In March, candidate Clinton delivered a speech to AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee), an organization that strongly supports the US/Israel alliance and the Israeli government.

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Clinton said, “[I]f I’m fortunate enough to be elected president, the United States will reaffirm we have a strong and enduring national interest in Israel’s security… That’s why I believe we must take our alliance to the next level. I hope a new 10-year defense memorandum of understanding is concluded as soon as possible to meet Israel’s security needs far into the future. That will also send a clear message to Israel’s enemies that the United States and Israel stand together united.”

She went on to say: “One of the first things I’ll do in office is invite the Israeli prime minister to visit the White House…. Let’s also expand our collaboration beyond security. Together, we can build an even more vibrant culture of innovation that tightens the links between Silicon Valley and Israeli tech companies and entrepreneurs.”

To my ear, that sounds like very strong support for Israel and its current government. And it sounded that way, even to an excessive degree, to others. Slate.com had this headline: “Hillary Clinton’s AIPAC Speech Was a Symphony of Craven, Delusional Pandering.”

Salon.com had a similar take: “‘She sounds like Netanyahu’: Hillary Clinton goes extra hawkish in her biased, die-hard pro-Israel AIPAC speech.”

During the campaign for the Democratic nomination, Clinton and Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden: 'Difficult decision' to staff administration with House, Senate members Hillicon Valley: YouTube suspends OANN amid lawmaker pressure | Dems probe Facebook, Twitter over Georgia runoff | FCC reaffirms ZTE's national security risk Biden Cabinet picks largely unify Democrats — so far MORE debated foreign affairs. Here is a part of the debate transcript: Sanders: “There comes a time when if we pursue justice and peace, we are going to have to say that Netanyahu is not right all of the time.”

Clinton: “…Nobody is saying that any individual leader is always right, but it is a difficult position. If you are from whatever perspective trying to seek peace, trying to create the conditions for peace when there is a terrorist group embedded in Gaza that does not want to see you exist, that is a very difficult challenge.”

Clinton staunchly defended Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, emphasizing the difficulties he faces.

Whether or not you agree with the substance of her position, it is clear that Clinton was extremely supportive of Israel throughout her campaign. If one of your first acts as president is to invite PM Netanyahu to the White House, there could be no clearer indication that you hope to have a close, constructive relationship with him.

President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaBiden teams to meet with Trump administration agencies Biden says he'd meet with Trump 'if he asked' Biden-Harris ticket the first in US history to surpass 80 million votes MORE, First Lady Michelle ObamaMichelle LeVaughn Robinson ObamaObama sold record-breaking 1.7 million copies of memoir in first week Media and Hollywood should stop their marching-to-Georgia talk Obama jokes that he's 'scared' of Michelle, Sasha MORE, and Vice President Joe Bide Biden all campaigned long and hard for candidate Clinton. Like any other president, Barack Obama hoped to be succeeded in office by a candidate of his own party; that would have been an attractive ornament to his legacy.

Now, let’s suppose she indeed had won. What then?

If candidate Clinton had become President-elect Clinton, Barack Obama would have wanted to do everything he possibly could to smooth her transition. The stronger her position on entering the office, the stronger her defense of Obama’s own legacy could be.

Clinton made support of Israel and Netanyahu a foundation of her foreign policy agenda. Surely President-elect Clinton would have been informed of even the possibility of a UN abstention, and just as surely she would have urged the president not to abstain, but to veto instead. 

I think the president would have acquiesced to the president-elect’s wishes.

The Obama administration’s abstention at the UN created a tremendous public furor and brought US/Israeli relations to their lowest point in memory. That kind furor was completely predictable to any savvy politician.

I cannot imagine that a departing Obama would have wanted to present an arriving Clinton, the designated defender of his legacy, with such an unholy mess—particularly where the mess soiled a foreign policy position she had so strongly embraced.

If I’m correct, the implications are troubling. If Obama would have vetoed the resolution had Clinton won, then the administration’s abstention cannot be seen as a reflection of fundamental US foreign policy. Fundamental US foreign policy does not change, I do not think, depending on which candidate wins a presidential election.

It is well known that Obama and Netanyahu never enjoyed a warm personal relationship. The president was undoubtedly displeased when the prime minister addressed a joint session of Congress to argue against the Iran nuclear deal.

Abstaining at the UN could have been Obama’s way to injure and humiliate the prime minister.

Some supporters of Mr. Trump — Rudy Giuliani, John Bolton — have said Obama abstained to “box in” the future Trump administration. 

If partisan politics was the motive, that reinforces my hunch that the US would not have abstained id Clinton had won.

Perhaps the decision to abstain was motivated both by pique and partisanship—the two impulses could work in tandem. It is not comforting to think that the foreign policy of our country, the most powerful nation on Earth, would turn on either or both of those impulses.

No one can know for a fact what would have happened if Clinton had won, because she lost. I might be mistaken about what would have happened. But I don’t think I am.

David E. Weisberg is a semi-retired attorney and a member of the New York state bar. He currently resides in Cary, North Carolina, and has published pieces on the Social Science Research Network and in The Times of Israel.


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