Columns

'Give Me a Break': Top Dem Slams Obama's 'Parting Shot Out the Door' at Israel

The top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee said today that “it’s not a matter of whether you’re for settlements or against settlements” — the United States should have stood up for Israel at the United Nations Security Council.

The Friday vote on the resolution drafted by Egypt, which demands Israel “immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the ‘occupied’ Palestinian territory, including east Jerusalem,” was 14 in favor and the U.S. abstention.

Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes told reporters on a conference call Friday that the administration decided to take the course it did because “one of our grave concerns is that the continued pace of settlement activity, which has accelerated in recent years.”

“We therefore thought that we could not in good conscience veto a resolution that expressed concerns about the very trends that are eroding the foundation for a two-state solution,” Rhodes said. “…For us, the question here has always been about what is the best way to pursue the security that the Israeli people deserve.  And we cannot simply have a two-state solution be a slogan while the trend lines on the ground are such that a two-state solution is becoming less and less viable.”

Foreign Affairs Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) told MSNBC today that “what’s important is regardless of how one feels about settlements, the fact is, the United Nations never gives Israel a fair break.”

“And Israel relies on the United States to block the most onerous of resolutions against them. And we didn’t do it and I think it was a mistake…. Israel’s the only democracy in the Middle East and it’s a strong ally of the United States. And at a time when half a million people are dying in Syria, there’s all kinds of genocide in South Sudan, all over the world, all the Security Council can do, with the U.S. acquiesce, is censure Israel for settlements. I mean, give me a break.”

Engel called the move President Obama’s “parting shot out the door.”

“You know, you have all of these countries in the UN — some on the Security Council, Venezuela, I mean, give me a break. That is the worst country when it comes to human rights. They’re going to pass judgment on Israel?” the congressman said. “And this is the problem with the United Nations: you’ve got so many undemocratic nations who resent the fact that Israel is this bastion of democracy in the Middle East.”

Engel stressed “it’s kind of a bit silly that Israel is the only country that doesn’t have embassies in its capital” and said he hopes the incoming administration moves the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, as was mandated by Congress in 1995. Every president since has used security-based waivers to keep the embassy in Tel Aviv.

“People who criticize Israel and use all kinds of terms, they should go to Israel. I mean there’s a vibrant state, a democracy, people of all races, people of all religions together, living in freedom — the kind of freedom we’re used to in the United States,” Engel added. “So singling out Israel when the United Nations is made of nations of tyrants that have no democracy, it’s just hypocritical. And if the United States goes along with it, then what kind of a body is the United Nations? Why should Israel care about anything the United Nations says when it can’t get a fair shake?”

At Sunday’s cabinet meeting, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he told Secretary of State John Kerry that “friends don’t take friends to the Security Council.”

“Over decades, American administrations and Israeli governments had disagreed about settlements, but we agreed that the Security Council was not the place to resolve this issue. We knew that going there would make negotiations harder and drive peace further away,” Netanyahu said. “…I’m encouraged by the statements of our friends in the United States, Republicans and Democrats alike. They understand how reckless and destructive this UN resolution was, they understand that the Western Wall isn’t occupied territory.”