A former Obama administration official said the administration orchestrated the delaying of a controversial anti-Israel United Nations resolution until after the 2016 presidential election, knowing it would pass when the United States abstained.
The official's claim contradicts on-the-record denials by Obama administration officials, who attacked critics at the time who suggested they were involved in its drafting.
Speaking anonymously to the New York Times, the official said the White House feared putting pressure on Hillary Clinton to either condemn or defend the resolution against Israeli settlements and potentially upset Jewish donors during her election fight against Donald Trump. The U.S. decision to abstain on U.N. Security Council resolution 2334 was widely viewed as a parting shot by Obama at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
"There is a reason the U.N. vote did not come up before the election in November," the former official said, in a portion of the report flagged by Jewish Insider. "Was it because you were going to lose voters to Donald Trump? No. It was because you were going to have skittish donors. That, and the fact that we didn’t want Clinton to face pressure to condemn the resolution or be damaged by having to defend it."
The official said fear of donor wrath dictated not only "what was done but what was not done, and what was not even contemplated."
Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro strongly denied the anonymous quote, telling Jewish Insider it was a "garbage claim" and the administration, as it professed at the time, was caught by surprise by the Egyptian-Palestinian drafted resolution.
The U.N. Security Council voted 14-0 on Resolution 2334 on Dec. 23, 2016, to demand a halt to settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, deeming both areas to be illegally occupied by Israel. East Jerusalem is home to the Western Wall of the Temple Mount, a Jewish holy site.
U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power could have killed the resolution with the veto power of a permanent member, but she essentially voted yes by abstaining, delighting the Palestinian Authority and infuriating Israel.
Netanyahu was unequivocal at the time in his accusation of Obama's involvement, saying "we have no doubt that the Obama administration initiated it, stood behind it, coordinated its versions and insisted upon its passage."
Obama officials strongly denied the administration played any role in the resolution's timing, including then-Secretary of State John Kerry, in a December 2016 speech eviscerating Israeli settlement policies and Netanyahu's government for an "extreme" agenda.
"We also strongly reject the notion that somehow the United States was the driving force behind this resolution," Kerry said. "The Egyptians and Palestinians had long made clear to all of us, to all of the international community, their intention to bring a resolution to a vote before the end of the year. And we communicated that to the Israelis and they knew it anyway. The United States did not draft or originate this resolution, nor did we put it forward."
He acknowledged telling other countries that the U.S. would consider abstention on the vote if it was "balanced," calling such diplomacy "standard practice."
The Free Beacon reported Vice President Joe Biden denied accusations he personally lobbied foreign leaders to support the resolution. Sources told Tablet and the Free Beacon Biden spoke to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and pressured him to vote "yes," but Biden's national security adviser Colin Kahl said no such phone calls took place.
Obama deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes also denied it in a CNN interview shortly after the vote, blaming the Israeli settlement policy for making a two-state solution "impossible" but saying the administration didn't know anything about the language of the resolution until it was put forward. Only then, Rhodes said, did Obama instruct Power to abstain.
Egypt withdrew its sponsorship from the resolution after Trump, then the president-elect, called the Egyptian president and urged him not to go forward. The resolution was eventually sponsored by New Zealand, Malaysia, Venezuela and Senegal.
A foreign policy expert involved in the fight over the resolution at the time told the Free Beacon "everyone in DC" knew Rhodes worked the phones against the Israelis to push the resolution with reporters.
"He was absolutely furious with the Egyptians for not wanting to destroy their relationship with Israel by advancing the resolution," the official said. "This one was emotional and personal for him."
Rhodes came under fire in 2016 when a lengthy New York Times profile quoted him boasting of creating an "echo chamber" of know-nothing reporters to sell the Iran nuclear deal.
Administration spokesman Ned Price tweeted at the time that reports of a secret meeting between U.S. and Palestinian officials to orchestrate the anti-Israel resolution were false. Egyptian media reported Kerry and National Security Adviser Susan Rice expressed willingness to Palestinians to support a "balanced" resolution and accused Netanyahu of trying to destroy a two-state solution.
— Ned Price (NARA) (@Price44) December 28, 2016
This is a total fabrication. This meeting never occurred. https://t.co/FHDL1taIlF
— Ned Price (NARA) (@Price44) December 28, 2016
Palestinian top official just confirmed to me that there were 2 separated meetings with Kerry and Susan Rice
— Gal Berger גל ברגר (@galberger) December 28, 2016
Obama defended the abstention in remarks to a New York City synagogue last year, saying it was in keeping with U.S. values and maintaining credibility with the rest of the world.
A writer for the Brookings Institution think tank guessed as early as October 2016 that Obama had a "surprise" to settle a score with Netanyahu once Obama was a lame duck. One of the possible ways: "Abstain on a Palestinian move to bring a new draft resolution branding settlements as illegal (a revised version of the 2011 draft resolution, which the United States vetoed) to a vote at the Security Council."
Support for Israel from Democrats has dwindled dramatically in favor of increased support for the Palestinians over the past decade, while Republican support for Israel has grown stronger. Netanyahu and Trump are strong allies, while Netanyahu and Obama were often at loggerheads, particularly over the latter's support for the Iran nuclear deal.
One Obama official anonymously called Netanyahu a "chickenshit" who had "no guts" in 2014, and the White House was enraged by Netanyahu's 2015 address to Congress, at the invitation of Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio), to attack the nuclear deal as dangerous and ill-conceived.
Rhodes, now an MSNBC contributor, told the Times he and other officials wanted the administration to take an even tougher stance against Israel while in office but they were handcuffed by "the donor class."
"The Washington view of Israel-Palestine is still shaped by the donor class," Rhodes said. "The donor class is profoundly to the right of where the activists are, and frankly, where the majority of the Jewish community is."