Israeli opposition criticises Netanyahu for stance on UN

Impact of UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements takes effect

Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu's domestic critics are coming out in force as the impact of the UN Security Council resolution condemning the country's settlements begins to sink in.

After focusing initially on condemning what most Israeli politicians considered a hostile attack, the opposition on Monday blamed Mr Netanyahu for a stance which they said harmed the country’s standing, and criticised his response to Resolution 2334.

"The prime minister was bragging about our foreign relations, and now what's under way is a total collapse of Israeli foreign policy," Yitzhak Herzog, co-chair of Israel's largest opposition party, said at the opening of the Zionist Union faction on Monday.

He called on Yair Lapid, head of the opposition party Yesh Atid, and finance minister Moshe Kahlon, whose Kulanu party is part of the governing coalition, to join him and "stop Netanyahu before it's too late".


Israel on Sunday summoned representatives from Security Council members and ordered the Foreign Ministry to scale back working ties with countries that voted for Resolution 2334, which demands that Israel cease construction in all areas it captured in the 1967 Middle East war and describes the West Bank and East Jerusalem as occupied Palestinian territory.

A day earlier, Mr Netanyahu recalled Israel's ambassadors from New Zealand and Senegal, two of the resolution's four co-sponsors, ended aid programmes to Senegal and pledged to cut off 30 million shekels (€7.5 million) in Israeli funding to UN institutions.

‘This his hysteria’

“This is not policy, this is hysteria,” Yesh Atid’s Lapid said at a party meeting on Monday. “We have enough haters who want to isolate us, there’s no reason to isolate ourselves.”

In the days after the vote, Mr Netanyahu lashed out at US president Barack Obama, with whom he has had a testy relationship, saying his administration pushed the resolution behind the scenes and had broken a long-standing commitment not to allow the UN to impose conditions on Israel in its conflict with the Palestinians.

The US decision to abstain in the vote, rather than veto the resolution, allowed it to pass.

Now concerns have shifted to the possibility that the resolution will not be Mr Obama’s last foray into the region while still US president.

According to a senior Israeli official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the issue is sensitive, the government fears a January 15th conference of foreign ministers in Paris will draft parameters for resolving the conflict with the Palestinians in a way Israel considers unfavourable, and will seek to impose them through the Security Council before Mr Obama leaves office on January 20th next.

Israeli defence minister Avigdor Lieberman on Monday compared the Paris conference to an infamous 19th-century trial in which a French Jewish army officer was imprisoned for treason after a trial considered tainted by anti-Semitism.

“What they’re preparing there in Paris is a modern version of the Dreyfus Trial,” Mr Lieberman said at a meeting of his parliamentary faction on Monday. The difference, he said, is that “this time, the whole people of Israel and the whole State of Israel will be in the guilty dock”.

Fraying ties

The US abstention highlighted the increasingly strained ties between Mr Obama and Mr Netanyahu. The Security Council vote came in the waning weeks of Mr Obama's presidency, as Israel looks forward to warmer relations with President-elect Donald Trump, who had pressured Mr Obama to veto the resolution in an unusual breach of transition protocol.

Mr Obama was highly critical of Israel’s West Bank settlements from the moment he entered office.

He and Mr Netanyahu also clashed publicly over the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, with the latter denouncing it in a speech to Congress that wasn't co-ordinated with the White House, leading to a further souring of relations.

The Obama administration has denied Friday’s vote breached any US commitments to Israel, saying it is in keeping with US support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

‘A big blow’

Palestinian leaders welcomed the measure's passage. The office of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said the move is "a big blow" for Israeli policy and a unanimous international backing for the two-state solution.

Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad also praised the vote.

Under terms of the agreements that have directed Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts for more than two decades, borders and settlements are issues for the two sides to negotiate in a final peace deal.

Israel says the UN vote will convince Palestinians they can get what they want without having to negotiate, making them more intransigent.

Palestinian leaders, on the other hand, blame Israel for the collapse of previous peace talks.