Feverish Behind-the-Scenes Maneuvering Before U.N. Vote

YERUSHALAYIM -
The United Nations Security Council Chamber in New York, NY.

Reports continued to surface on Tuesday about behind-the-scenes maneuvering on the eve of the U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israel last Friday.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and National Security Advisor Susan Rice had told Palestinian officials that they would be willing to support a “balanced” resolution, according to Egyptian media reports quoted by The Times of Israel. (It was not clear what that meant, but on Monday, when the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry summoned the Israeli ambassador to Kiev for consultations, the Ukrainians described the resolution that passed as “balanced.”)

American officials reportedly accused Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu of seeking to torpedo the two-state solution to the conflict with the Palestinians.

Kerry was quoted as offering to present his ideas for a final-status solution if the Palestinians would promise to support it. Kerry and Rice reportedly advised the Palestinians to travel to Riyadh to present the plan to Saudi leaders.

But Rice is then quoted as saying that it would be pointless to push a peace initiative at this point, only days before Donald Trump takes office.

PA official Saeb Erekat was said to have threatened that if Trump moves the U.S. embassy to Yerushalayim, the Palestinian Authority will rescind its recognition of Israel and ask Arab states to oust their U.S. ambassadors.

Kerry and Rice reportedly advised the Palestinian Authority to avoid any “provocative” action before the January 20 inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump, Israel’s Channel 1 reported on Tuesday night, citing the Egyptian AlYoum Al-Sabea newspaper.

Meanwhile, Haaretz published a report about the unusual maneuverings of Britain and Russia and Netanyahu’s desperate efforts to prevent, or at least delay, the resolution from coming to a vote: Last Friday, a few hours before the Council vote, Netanyahu phoned New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully to attempt to persuade him to drop his plan, together with Senegal, Malaysia and Venezuela, to resubmit the resolution Egypt had canceled the day before.

Western diplomatic sources described the conversation with McCully as “harsh and very tense,” according to Haaretz.

“This is a scandalous decision. I’m asking that you not support it and not promote it,” Netanyahu told McCully, according to the diplomats. “If you continue to promote this resolution, from our point of view it will be a declaration of war. It will rupture the relations and there will be consequences. We’ll recall our ambassador to Yerushalayim.”

But McCully refused to back down. “This resolution conforms to our policy and we will move it forward,” he reportedly told Netanyahu.

Apparently, New Zealand and its partners were not acting on their own, but were under pressure from Britain, the Gulf States and the Palestinians.

Israeli diplomats say that they had received information that British legal figures and diplomats were advising the Palestinians on the language of the resolution at an early stage, prior to its distribution by Egypt the first time on Wednesday evening. They alleged that the British did this secretly, without informing Israel.

But neither were the British acting solely on their own initiative. Israel suspects that they were serving as proxies of the Obama administration — to make sure that the resolution would be acceptable to Obama, but without showing the American hand in it.

“We know how to read Security Council resolutions,” a senior Israeli diplomat said. “This is not a text that was formulated by the Palestinians or Egypt, but by a Western power.”

“The British helped tone down the text so it would meet the American threshold and so it could be passed without a veto,” one of the Western diplomats said, though he could not confirm any American role in it.

Netanyahu also made a last-minute try at getting the Russians to intervene. Just the day before, Israel had acceded to a Russian request to absent itself from a vote in the U.N. General Assembly on a resolution regarding war crimes in Syria.

A conversation between Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin apparently yielded results. What was said between them was not revealed, but just before speeches ahead of a vote in the Security Council, Russian U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin suddenly asked for a closed meeting.

Churkin reportedly shocked the other ambassadors from the Council member-states by proposing a postponement of the matter until January. There had not been enough discussion on the wording of the resolution, Churkin claimed, and he said he was surprised at the haste of some of the countries to put it to a vote so quickly. The deputy Russian ambassador to Israel, Alexy Drobinin, confirmed this in an interview with Army Radio on Tuesday morning.

However, as history will record, Churkin’s suggested postponement was rejected by the other members of the Council, and the vote against Israel went ahead: 14 for the resolution, with the U.S. abstaining.