Israel on diplomatic warpath after UN condemns settlements

Concern that Obama is planning further hostile moves before leaving office

Israel has launched an unprecedented diplomatic offensive against both the outgoing administration of US president Barack Obama and those countries which backed a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Jewish settlement activity.

Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu accused those who backed resolution 2334, which was adopted on Friday night, of grossly insulting the country. "They are spitting at us," he said. "We'll respond forcefully, and we have the tools to do so."

The resolution – the first since 1979 to condemn Israel over its settlement policy – said the settlements had “no legal validity” and constituted “a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-state solution.”

Fourteen states voted in favour and the US abstained, which allowed the resolution to pass.

“From the information at our disposal, we have no doubt that the Obama administration initiated it and was behind it, co-ordinated the texts and demanded that it be passed. Friends don’t take friends to the security council,” Mr Netanyahu said. Israeli sources later said that officials had “evidence” that Mr Obama had orchestrated the UN resolution.

Occupied territory

Israel was particularly upset that the resolution branded Jerusalem’s Old City, including the Temple Mount and Western Wall, “occupied Palestinian territory”.

Science minister Ofir Akunis, from Mr Netanyahu's Likud party, said that this was an opportunity for the prime minister to renounce the two-state solution.

Naftali Bennett, leader of the right-wing Jewish Home, said his party intends to introduce a Bill for Israel to annex the major West Bank settlement blocs.

The Jerusalem municipality is this week expected to approve construction of new homes in east Jerusalem neighbourhoods that go beyond the 1967 green line border.

In response to the UN resolution, the government cancelled an upcoming visit by Ukrainian prime minister Volodymyr Groysman, one of the countries voting in favour. It also cancelled Israeli funding to the UN and recalled its ambassadors from New Zealand and Senegal – two other countries that sponsored the resolution.

Additionally, Mr Netanyahu summoned the US ambassador to Israel for a reprimand, and on Christmas Day summoned ambassadors from other security council member countries that supported the resolution for a similar diplomatic dressing-down. He also instructed ministers to refrain from visiting countries voting against Israel.

Israeli officials expressed concern that Mr Obama may have another surprise in stall for Israel before he leaves office on January 20th.

Various scenarios

Among the scenarios for which Israel is preparing are a hostile American move connected to next month's Middle East peace summit in Paris, which is Israel is boycotting; a speech by US secretary of state John Kerry setting out parameters for a Palestinian state; and a second initiative in the security council, spearheaded by the US, with the quartet of Middle East peace mediators – the US, the the EU, the UN and Russia – drafting a proposal that will apply chapter 7 of the UN Charter to the settlements.

Under such a scenario, the settlements could be declared a threat to peace, allowing the UN to take punitive action against Israel.

Increasingly, Mr Netanyahu is pinning his hopes on president-elect Donald Trump, who promised that "things will be different" at the UN after he takes office. Israel is counting on a series of steps, including a decision to move the American embassy to Jerusalem, agreement to more settlement construction, and cutting American funding to the UN.

Senior Palestinian officials said the Palestinian Authority will demand that a public investigation against the settlements be launched by the International Criminal Court at The Hague, along with an immediate boycott on Israeli products and goods.

“The security council resolution has opened a variety of possibilities for us on the diplomatic front against Israel,” a senior Palestinian official said.