Dec 18, 2017

Why the U.N. veto was a loss for Trump and Netanyahu

Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, speaks before the veto. Photo: Kena Betancur / AFP / Getty Images

The United States was able to block the United Nations Security Council from condemning President Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel — but the move was still a defeat, not just for Trump, but for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as well.

The bottom line: Even though the resolution didn't pass, the U.N. voted against Trump 14 to 1. Less than two weeks after recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and announcing the preparations for moving the U.S embassy to the city, Trump found himself isolated internationally. All the member states in the most important international body rejected his move and were ready to pass a binding resolution to rescind it.

The back story: This is the first time Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the U.N., used the veto in the Security Council since Trump became president. It is also the first time the U.S. has used its veto right in almost seven years. The last time was in February 2011, when the Obama administration vetoed a security council resolution that also had to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The impact: Minutes after the vote, Netanyahu posted a video on social media praising Haley and Trump for vetoing the resolution. In the spirit of Hanukkah, Netanyahu even gave Haley the title "Maccabee" – in honor of the ancient Jewish warriors who fought the Greek army and won.

But in reality, Netanyahu led Trump to defeat in the U.N. security council twice in one year – today and last December, when the Trump transition team tried and failed to prevent a security council resolution on West Bank settlements behind the Obama administration's back. Trump doesn't like to lose.

The big picture: The events of the last two weeks around Trump's Jerusalem announcement are the biggest crisis between the U.S. and the Palestinians since the height of the second Intifada in 2002. Haley's speech today, which included harsh attacks on the Palestinian leadership claiming it does not serve the interest of its people, sounded very much like President George W. Bush's speech from April 2002 in which he called on the Palestinians to elect a different leader than Yasser Arafat.

In such a crisis, Trump's top priority policy goal of reaching the "ultimate deal" between Israel and the Palestinians seems to be on life support.

What to watch: Israeli and U.S. officials admit that today's vote is merely the appetizer of what's to come. The main course is a series of Palestinian initiatives in international organizations which will aim to further isolate the U.S. and Israel.

Minutes after the U.S. veto, the Palestinians called for an emergency session of the U.N. General Assembly to try to pass another resolution there. The General Assembly resolutions are non-binding, but there is no U.S. veto power there. Most likely, Trump and Netanyahu will lose there too – but in a much bigger margin.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas also announced today he will initiate formal requests for the state of Palestine to join 22 U.N. agencies. It will be very hard for the Trump administration to stop this – and most likely here too, the president will lose.

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