Following the Obama administration’s decision to abstain from voting on a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israel’s construction of settlements in contested Palestinian territory, supporters of Israel in Congress have called for cutting off U.S. funding to the United Nations.
The international organization, which receives a significant portion of its budget from the U.S., has long been critical of Israel for building Jewish settlements on Palestinian territory and in the past America has tried to stop resolutions that favor one side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Following the vote, President-elect Donald Trump tweeted that “As to the U.N., things will be different after Jan. 20th,” signaling to lawmakers looking to take action against the U.N. that they may find a willing partner in the White House after Inauguration Day.
What happened at the U.N.?
Last week, a resolution was introduced by Egypt, New Zealand, Venezuela, Malaysia and Senegal that condemned Israel for building settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. The nations had first drafted the resolution earlier in December, and at the time the U.S. opposed it because it didn’t balance criticism of Israel’s settlements with a condemnation of terrorism and violence committed by Palestinians. The final version of the two and a half page resolution contained one sentence emphasizing the responsibility of Palestinians to curb terrorism, while also condemning violence against civilians generally.
A vote on the resolution had been scheduled, but Egypt withdrew it under pressure from Israel and after Egypt’s president received a call from Trump. But the rules of the Security Council allow cosponsors of a resolution to advance a proposal even if the sponsor withdraws their support, and the four other nations put it forward for a vote. The U.S. was the only country on the Security Council to not vote in favor, instead opting to abstain, allowing the resolution to pass on a 14-0 vote.
As one of the five permanent members of the Security Council — the others being China, France, Great Britain and Russia — the U.S. could have chosen to veto the resolution. But the Obama administration has long felt that Israel’s settlements in contested territory are an obstacle to peace, and the countries that drafted the resolution wanted to bring it up for a vote before Obama left office in the hope of avoiding a veto by an incoming Trump administration. That raised questions about whether the U.S. actively encouraged the introduction of the resolution, a charge which Secretary of State John Kerry and UN Ambassador Samantha Powers denied while defending the abstention as being consistent with existing American policy.