The US chose to abstain last Friday (23 December) during a vote on a resolution against Israeli settlement expansion at the UN Security Council. The resolution, initially tabled by Egypt and reintroduced by New Zealand, Venezuela, Senegal, and Malaysia, demands an end to the building of settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
The Israeli government has reacted to the decision with a vigorous campaign against the 14 countries that voted in favour of the resolution – ambassadors have been summoned, aid programmes declared void, and meetings cancelled, including the planned get-together between UK Prime Minister Theresa May and her Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu in Davos next month. Moreover, Israel's Defence Ministry has reportedly been ordered to cease all non-security-related coordination with the Palestinian Authority.
The Israeli government minced no words in its press release after the UN vote: "Israel rejects the anti-Israel resolution at the UN and will not abide by its terms. At a time when the Security Council does nothing to stop the slaughter of half a million people in Syria, it disgracefully gangs up on the one true democracy in the Middle East, Israel, and calls the Western Wall occupied territory.
"The Obama administration not only failed to protect Israel against this gang-up at the UN, it collaborated with the UN behind the scenes."
But Obama's deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, defended the administration's decision and asserted that Israel had only itself to blame: "Prime Minister Netanyahu had the opportunity to pursue policies that would have led to a different outcome today," Rhodes said in a press briefing. "Absent this acceleration of settlement activity, absent the type of rhetoric we've seen out of the current Israeli government, I think the United States likely would have taken a different view."
But is it really that simple? You do not have to be a fervent supporter of Netanyahu and his firebrand grandstanding or an impassionate advocate for settlement building to feel uneasy about the decision taken by the Security Council. Regardless of who you think is responsible for the escalation, the vote will likely make matters worse for both Israelis and Palestinians.
Why? Because it fatally undermines the central premise of any permanent agreement between the two parties – land for peace. Israel gets security, Palestinians their own state after they agree on acceptable terms. The resolution passed on Friday, however, will encourage unilateralism over peace negotiations.
The Palestinian authority has been given the green light to pursue its policy of trying to isolate Israel diplomatically and to delegitimise it morally in the international arena rather than sitting down on the negotiation table and agree to painful concessions necessary for statehood. The vote will also boost the influence of the global BDS movement that wants Israel erased from the map altogether.
Meanwhile in Israel, the resolution was seen as a betrayal across the political spectrum. It will make it difficult for politicians like Herzog, Livni and others critical of Netanyahu's hard line politics, to facilitate peace negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. At the same time, it will not stop the Netanyahu government from approving new settlement buildings in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. And even when the Netanyahu government agreed to a partial settlement freeze for almost a year in 2009-2010, the Palestinian Authority proved unwilling to take part in peace negotiations orchestrated by the US.
What makes matters worse is that the decision to punish Israel was taken by the UN. It is not good enough to say for Netanyahu that the UN failed to take action in Syria and, therefore, cannot hold Israel to account. Two wrongs do not make a right and a democracy should never be held to the same principles as a mass murdering dictatorship.
An independent Palestinian state can only exist alongside a secured state of Israel.
However, the UN is so unabashedly and aggressively anti-Israel, the only Jew among its member states, that it is impossible to see the moral legitimacy with which it can credibly condemn Israel's actions.
Consider this: Throughout 2016, the UN General Assembly adopted 20 resolutions singling out Israel, and only four resolutions against the rest of the world combined. Not to forget the shameful vote by Unesco, the UN's primary cultural agency, nullifying any Jewish ties to Temple Mount –malicious historical revisionism of the worst kind.
It should thus come as no surprise that previous US administration, with the exception of the Carter government, have been hesitant to hand over the peace process to the UN. It has been US policy for decades to insist that any credible peace agreement cannot be imposed unilaterally by external powers, but will only emerge as the result of bilateral negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
An independent Palestinian state can only exist alongside a secured state of Israel. The resolution passed on Friday facilitates no such thing.
Julie Lenarz is the Executive Director of the Human Security Centre.