The long-anticipated coda of the Obama-Netanyahu relationship did not disappoint in its drama: With a U.S. abstention, Ambassador Samantha Power allowed U.N. Security Council Resolution 2334 on Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem to pass 14 votes to 0. This was a major diplomatic defeat for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and a major blow by President Barak Obama to the Israeli government, but it was not a surprise, nor was it unavoidable.
The widespread uproar in Israel focused first and foremost on Obama’s decision not to wield the U.S. veto, as well as on the inclusion of East Jerusalem in the scope of the resolution. The Security Council reaffirmed its determination that the West Bank and East Jerusalem are occupied territory and that Israeli settlements there “have no legal validity,” calling on countries to distinguish in all their dealings between Israel-proper and the West Bank. If East Jerusalem, including the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City, is “occupied,” most Israelis feel, then the world has just denied Jewish connection to Judaism’s holiest site, as the Palestinian leadership has often done in recent years.
None of this—the determination of “occupation,” the inclusion of East Jerusalem, the U.S. abstention—was actually new. But two things were: the involvement of Donald Trump, not yet in office, in the process of tabling the resolution; and the sense that this was not merely a condemnation of Israeli settlements, nor an attempt to promote a two-state solution, but an attempt to prevent the worst of the no-solution reality. Perhaps the most notable line in the resolution is an oft-repeated yet rarely considered phrase, by now almost a cliché: