Obama faces widespread backlash after abstaining from UN Israel vote

Obama faces widespread backlash after abstaining from UN Israel vote
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President Obama is facing widespread backlash from Republicans and some Democrats after the United States abstained from a vote on a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements, allowing the resolution to pass.

“Today's passage of an ill-conceived resolution on Israeli settlements marks another shameful chapter in the bizarre anti-Israel history of the United Nations,” Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainConservative activist wins contest to represent New Hampshire at Republican National Convention Schiff shows clip of McCain in Trump impeachment trial Martha McSally fundraises off 'liberal hack' remark to CNN reporter MORE (R-Ariz.) said in a statement Friday.

“The abstention of the United States has made us complicit in this outrageous attack, and marks a troubling departure from our nation's long, bipartisan history of defending our ally Israel in the United Nations.”

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On Friday, the Security Council voted 14-0 on a resolution condemning Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory as a “flagrant violation” of international law that have “"no legal validity." It demands a halt to "all Israeli settlement activities," saying this "is essential for salvaging the two-state solution."

The United States has veto power in the Security Council and has used it for similar resolutions in the past. The Obama administration’s decision to abstain represents a break from the longstanding U.S. policy of shielding Israel from U.N. reproaches.

President-elect Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump denies telling Bolton Ukraine aid was tied to investigations Former senior Senate GOP aide says Republicans should call witnesses Title, release date revealed for Bolton memoir MORE pledged that after he is inaugurated, “things will be different.”

In a statement released by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office, Israel said it looks forward to working with Trump and members of Congress to “negate the harmful effects of this absurd resolution.”

The statement also slammed the U.N. for taking action against Israeli settlements when it failed to take action to halt the Syrian civil war.

“At a time when the Security Council does nothing to stop the slaughter of half a million people in Syria, it disgracefully gangs up on the one true democracy in the Middle East, Israel and calls the Western Wall ‘occupied territory.’”

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Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSunday shows preview: Lawmakers prepare for week two of impeachment trial Trump defense team signals focus on Schiff Trump legal team offers brisk opening defense of president MORE (R-S.C.) said the Obama administration’s abstention “empowers evil.”

“The United Nations will regret this vote and I hope the Obama administration will realize the massive mistake they made on their way out of the door,” he said in a statement.

He also predicted congressional action in response.

“I anticipate this vote will create a backlash in Congress against the United Nations,” he said. “The organization is increasingly viewed as anti-Semitic and seems to have lost all sense of proportionality. I will do everything in my power, working with the new administration and Congress, to leave no doubt about where America stands when it comes to the peace process and where we stand with the only true democracy in the Middle East, Israel.”

Similarly, Sen. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonDemocrats, Republicans tussle over witnesses as vote approaches GOP senator says idea that Ukraine interfered in US election is 'not a conspiracy theory' Sunday shows - Spotlight shifts to Trump tweet, Senate trial witnesses MORE (R-Ark.) threatened to push for reprisals against the U.N. and members of the Security Council.

"The UN and nations supporting this resolution have now imperiled all forms of U.S. assistance," Cotton said in a statement. "I look forward to working with President-elect Trump and members of both parties in Congress to decide what the consequences for this action will be.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellFormer senior Senate GOP aide says Republicans should call witnesses Democrats step up pressure over witnesses after Bolton bombshell Bolton book alleges Trump tied Ukraine aid freeze to Biden investigations: NYT MORE (R-Ky.) called the abstention "a failure of leadership and judgment" and pledged to work with the incoming administration to reassure Israel.

"In the weeks ahead I am committed to working with the new administration and my colleagues in Congress to reassure our ally Israel that America's commitment to the two state solution — achieved in a manner which protects Israel's vital national security interest — is unswerving," he said in a statement.

House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanThe Hill's Morning Report — Dems detail case to remove Trump for abuse of power Social security emerges as latest flash point in Biden-Sanders tussle Hill.TV's Saagar Enjeti rips Sanders for 'inability to actually fight with bad actors' in party MORE (R-Wis.) called the vote “shameful.”

"Today's vote is a blow to peace that sets a dangerous precedent for further diplomatic efforts to isolate and demonize Israel,” he said in a statement. “Our unified Republican government will work to reverse the damage done by this administration, and rebuild our alliance with Israel."

Sen. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerDemocrats feel political momentum swinging to them on impeachment Senate Republicans confident they'll win fight on witnesses Tensions between McConnell and Schumer run high as trial gains momentum MORE (R-Colo.) said Obama has turned his back on Israel.

“His days of emboldening our enemies and weakening our friends are thankfully coming to an end,” Gardner added in a statement. “After eight years of waffling on supporting one of our closest allies, President Obama’s decision today marks his final betrayal of Israel.”

Leading Democrats have also expressed disappointment in the administration’s decision.

Incoming Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerBolton book alleges Trump tied Ukraine aid freeze to Biden investigations: NYT Trump legal team offers brisk opening defense of president Impeachment has been a dud for Democrats MORE (D-N.Y.) called the vote “frustrating, disappointing and confounding” and said it will move Israel farther from peace.

“Whatever one’s views are on settlements, the U.N. is the wrong forum to settle these issues,” he said in a statement. “The U.N. has been a fervently anti-Israel body since the days of ‘Zionism is racism’ and, unfortunately, that fervor has never diminished. Knowing this, past Administrations — both Democrat and Republican — have protected Israel from the vagaries of this biased institution.”

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) pledged to work with his colleague on a bipartisan basis to strengthen U.S. support for Israel.

“The United States’ abstention from voting on such a flagrantly one-sided resolution is unconscionable,” he said in a statement. “A two-state solution must be negotiated directly between the Israelis and Palestinians, and this resolution flies in the face of this necessity. Support for Israel must remain bipartisan, and I will work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to advance productive measures that strengthen our commitment to this critical ally.”

Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenTax season could bring more refund confusion Hillicon Valley — Presented by Philip Morris International — Wyden asks NSA to investigate White House cybersecurity | Commerce withdraws Huawei rule after Pentagon objects | Warren calls on Brazil to drop Greenwald charges Wyden vows push to force release of Khashoggi assessment MORE (D-Ore.) also slammed the vote and expressed disappointment in the White House’s decision.

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"I am deeply disappointed that the administration set aside longstanding U.S. policy to allow such a one-sided resolution to pass,” Wyden said in a statement. "Actions like this will only take us further from the peace we all want to see."

The Better World Campaign, a nonpartisan organization which strives to strengthen the partnership between the U.S. and the United Nations, warned against a souring relationship between America and the international organization.

“Keeping our seat at the table is the best way to advance American interests and those of Israel," said the organization's President Peter Yeo in a statement.

“Eliminating or cutting funding to the United Nations will not serve U.S. interests. The UN and the UN Security Council remain vital to developing global support for America’s priorities, including combatting terrorism, handling threats to international peace and security, and ending conflicts," Yeo added. 

"Without active participation at the UN, including full funding, our nation’s ability to achieve our foreign policy and national security objectives will be severely diminished."

One notable Democrat to back Obama was Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinCalifornia Democrat Christy Smith launches first TV ad in bid for Katie Hill's former House seat Biden wins endorsement of Sacramento mayor Roberts under pressure from both sides in witness fight MORE (Calif.). She said the refusal to veto the resolution sent a strong signal to Israel that the United States condemns the settlements and supports a two-state solution.

"I believe the expansion of settlements has but one goal: to undermine the viability of a two-state solution," she said in a statement. “I’ve met with displaced Palestinian families who have been kicked off land they’ve lived on for many generations. The ill will that results from these settlements is a significant roadblock to peace, and I again call on Israel to end their expansion so that a two-state solution remains a possibility.”

Rights groups, which have long considered the settlements a violation of human rights, also came to Obama’s defense and applauded the vote.

Human Rights Watch called the administration’s abstention a welcome change from the past.

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“The U.S. abstention is a welcome shift away from past practice of using its Security Council veto to shield Israel from criticism despite longstanding U.S. policy opposing settlements,” Louis Charbonneau, U.N. director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “Indications that President-elect Trump may change US policy on settlements reinforces the need for a steadfast Security Council position.”

Amnesty International called the resolution “historic”

“This is the first time in almost four decades that such a resolution has been passed,” Sherine Tadros, head of Amnesty International’s U.N. office, said in a statement. “Israel’s settlement policy is inherently discriminatory and has resulted in grave human rights violations including destruction of homes, forced evictions, unlawful killings, arbitrary detentions and collective punishment. The Security Council must now ensure this resolution is respected.”

J Street, a liberal Jewish organization that favors a two-state solution, also came to Obama's defense, applauding the move in a statement Friday afternoon.
 
"This resolution conveys the overwhelming support of the international community, including Israel’s closest friends and allies, for the two-state solution, and their deep concern over the deteriorating status quo between Israelis and Palestinians and the lack of meaningful progress toward peace," Jeremy Ben-Ami, the group's president, said in the statement.
 
Meanwhile, the influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) called the Obama administration's decision "deeply disturbing."
 
"It is particularly regrettable, in his last month in office, that the president has taken an action at odds with the bipartisan consensus in Congress and America’s long history of standing with Israel at the United Nations," the group said in a statement. "AIPAC expresses its appreciation to President-elect Trump and the many Democratic and Republican Members of Congress who urged a veto of this resolution."
 
Updated at 7:58 p.m. Nikita Vladimirov contributed.