Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu moved from an offensive to defensive posture on Monday regarding the UN Security Council vote, rebuffing criticism that his angry response was too aggressive and saying that Israel will not “turn the other cheek.”
During an event in Ma’alot-Tarshiha to launch a new socioeconomic plan for the Galilee, Netanyahu said he read criticism in the morning papers of his aggressive responses to the vote. This response included recalling Israel’s ambassadors to Senegal and New Zealand, summoning in for protests the ambassadors and representatives of all the UN Security Council states, canceling the scheduled visit this week of the Ukrainian prime minister and calling on his ministers to curtail visits to the 14 Security Council states that voted for the measure.
“Israel is a country with national pride and we do not turn the other cheek,” he said.
“This is a rational, aggressive and responsible response, the natural reaction of a healthy nation that is making clear to the nations of the world that what was done in the UN is unacceptable to it.”
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Netanyahu said that this type of response has an “accumulative effect,” even if there will be other efforts to harm us in the course of the coming month. He was referring to concerns that the Obama administration may set forth parameters for a Middle East solution that Israel opposes and finds inimical to its interests.
“There is no alternative to a determined response, because it creates the basis for different relations afterward,” Netanyahu said.
Referring to a headline Monday morning on the front page of Maariv, Netanyahu said that to describe Israel’s reaction as a “world war” was absurd. “I say enough with this Diaspora mentality,” Netanyahu said. “I say there is no diplomatic wisdom in being obsequious. Not only will our relations with the world not be harmed, in the long term they will only improve, because the nations of the world respect strong countries that stand up for themselves. They do not respect weak and obsequious countries that bow their heads.”
Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, meanwhile, said Jerusalem has evidence Washington was behind the UN move, while Obama administration officials countered that runaway settlement activity gave the US no choice but to abstain.
Dermer, speaking on CNN, said that there is nothing new when the UN “gangs up” on Israel.
“What is new is that the United States did not stand up and oppose that gang-up,” he said. “And what is outrageous is that the United States was actually behind that gang-up. I think it was a really sad day and a shameful chapter in our relations.”
Dermer said Jerusalem has “clear evidence” of US involvement, and that it will be presented to the incoming Trump administration.
A few hours after that interview aired in the US, senior White House official Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, told Channel 2 that when the resolution came to a vote, “we decided not to support it, but to abstain, given our concerns about the trends on the ground.”
Rhodes said both US President Barack Obama and US Secretary of State John Kerry have been saying in hundreds of conversations and speeches that Israel’s settlement activities in the West Bank were making the two-state solution unachievable over time, and that if the trend continued “we could see further international steps against Israeli settlement activity.
“When we see laws aimed to legalize outposts, and when we see rhetoric that suggests this is the most pro-settlement Israeli government in history, and when we see facts on the ground – deep into the West Bank, beyond the separation barrier – we feel compelled to speak against those actions,” he said.
Lurking behind this war of words was the continued concern in Jerusalem that Obama would initiate another move against Israel before leaving office in a little less than a month.
Rhodes said he would not describe what was being planned as a new initiative.
"I think what Secretary Kerry will be doing is he will give a speech in which he will lay out a comprehensive vision for how we see the conflict being resolved; where we see things in 2016 as we unfortunately conclude our term in office without THERE being significant progress toward peace,? he said.
The concern in Jerusalem is that the parameters Kerry will lay out will be adopted as the new parameters for a resolution at a Middle East conference to be convened in Paris on January 15, and perhaps even formalized into yet another resolution that could be taken to the Security Council to essentially replace UN Security Council Resolution 242, which has been the basis of all peace efforts since 1967.
Netanyahu’s aggressive approach, meanwhile, has already engendered pushback, with Ukraine firing back at Jerusalem’s decision to cancel Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman’s scheduled visit by calling in Israel’s ambassador to Kiev for a clarification.
According to a statement put out by the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry, Kiev expressed its “disappointment” to Ambassador Eliav Belotserkovsky at the “emotional reaction of some Israeli officials and politicians” following the passage of the resolution which Ukraine supported.
The statement said the two sides agreed to focus on the preparation of a number of “important bilateral events,” including the next round of negotiations for a Free Trade Agreement, as well as negotiations to liberalize air traffic between the two countries.
Groysman was scheduled to arrive on Wednesday. Jerusalem nixed the visit, however, because Ukraine was among the 14 states that voted for the measure. It also called in Kiev’s ambassador to protest the vote.
Late Sunday night, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying it is “confident that active and emotional internal debates in Israel will not impact traditionally friendly Ukrainian-Israeli relations, based on mutual respect and joint interests.
“Our country consistently advocates the respect for the international law by everyone and everywhere as [it] has experienced itself the tragic consequences brought [about] by its violation,” the statement read, in reference to Crimea. “That’s why our position was formed on the basis of our consistent line to ensure the respect for the international law by all its subjects.”
Diplomatic officials in Jerusalem said that the decision to cancel Groysman’s visit was part of a policy to send a signal to the world that Israel will begin extracting a price for countries that vote against it in critical votes in international forums.
Ukraine has one of the better voting records on Israel-related issues in Europe, generally abstaining or not being present for these votes.
For instance, it was not present when the UN General Assembly granted non-member observer state status to “Palestine” in 2012, and abstained when UNESCO accepted “Palestine” as a member in 2011.
Ukraine also abstained on the two votes in UNESCO this year which expunged any Jewish connection to the Temple Mount.