Radical change coming in U.S.-Israeli relations

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a political conservative in the mold of President-elect Donald J. Trump, seemingly cannot wait for what he envisions to be the dawn of a new America Jan. 20, when Mr. Trump is inaugurated. But that bodes ill for Israeli-Palestinian peace.

A Trump-Netanyahu bond will mark a radical change in U.S.-Israeli relations.


After nearly 50 years of Israeli occupation of the West Bank and annexation of East Jerusalem, the Obama administration got fed up with its futile attempts to forge peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Tired of repeatedly scolding Israel for its settlement policy, it went for the jugular at the U.N. Security Council, abstaining from a resolution condemning Israel for building bricks and mortar in disputed territory.

And this only months after President Obama agreed to give Israel $38 billion in military aid over 10 years.


A rare swipe at a staunch ally, the bold abstention ignored the insistence of Messrs. Netanyahu and Trump for the United States to veto the resolution. It also slapped Mr. Trump for interfering in an Obama administration policy decision.

But Mr. Trump, never one to take abuse, served notice in a tweet immediately after the 14-0 vote, "As for the U.N., things will be different after Jan. 20th."

Of that there can be little doubt.

Mr. Trump will have little trouble holding hands with an equally rightist Israeli government and will likely keep hands off Mr. Netanyahu's policies. About 400,000 settlers live in the West Bank and another 300,000 in East Jerusalem. More certainly will come.

Washington repeatedly has branded the settlements "obstacles to peace" because they absorb land for a potential Palestinian state. But Mr. Netanyahu instead marches to the tune of his settler and Orthodox constituency.

More than a generation ago, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat advised Israel to resolve the Palestinian issue so there could be peace in the Middle East, telling the Knesset, or parliament, during his history-bending visit to Jerusalem in November 1977: "It is no use to refrain from recognizing the Palestinian people and their right to statehood as their right of return. ... It is useless to create obstacles, otherwise the march of peace will be impeded or peace will be blown up."

Israel ignored the advice of Sadat, who was assassinated in 1981. Result: major Palestinian uprisings in 1987 and 2000 and the inconclusive brutal war in Gaza in 2014. The kindling for another firestorm waits for a match.

Israel forsook Gaza in 2005 in a peacemaking bid but since has pointed to terrorist Hamas' takeover of the coastal strip as an example of what could happen if it also surrendered the West Bank. That argument does give one pause: A terrorist-run state on Israel's border minus a buffer zone, as with Gaza, could prove disastrous.


Security Council Resolution 2334 labeled the settlements illegal and expressed "grave concern that continuing Israeli settlement activities are dangerously imperiling the viability of a two-State solution based on the 1967 lines" that existed before the Six-Day War that year, when Israel captured the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan.

"Israel rejects this shameful anti-Israel resolution at the UN and will not abide by its terms," Mr. Netanyahu said in a statement released by his office. No surprise there.

The Palestinians refuse to participate in peace talks with Israel until it halts settlement construction. Israel will not engage in negotiations until the Palestinians recognize the legitimacy of the Jewish state.

The Obama administration sought to characterize its abstention from the U.N. vote as a result of Mr. Netanyahu's refusal to stop expanding Jewish settlement, not revenge for the bad blood between him and Mr. Obama. It scorned his refusal to sit down with the Palestinians as a missed chance at peace while giving lip service to seeking peace talks.

The Israeli leader "had the opportunity to pursue policies that would have led to a different outcome today," Ben Rhodes, Mr. Obama's deputy national security adviser, told reporters.

Israel will ignore the resolution, will expand its settlements and perhaps even annex the West Bank, as demanded by the far right, all assuredly with Mr. Trump's support. The future holds little promise of an Israeli-Palestinian peace. It will take astute statesmen on both sides to achieve that. With Messrs. Trump and Netanyahu in power, there aren't any.


Richard C. Gross, a former correspondent and bureau chief in Israel and foreign editor of United Press International, retired as opinion page editor of The Baltimore Sun. He lives in Santa Fe, and his email is