WASHINGTON (CNN) — Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes denied Friday that President Barack Obama was trying to “get back” at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by abstaining from a controversial UN Security Council vote condemning Israeli settlements.
“Absolutely not,” Rhodes told CNN’s Jim Acosta on “The Situation Room.” “Bipartisan policy of the US government for decades has been to oppose settlements. The reason we took this step is because for years, we’ve seen an acceleration in the growth of these settlements. And frankly, if these current trends continue, the two-state solution is going to be impossible. The peace that people say that they want, that we badly want for the people of Israel — a secure Israel living side-by-side a Palestinian state — that goal will become impossible.”
The United States allowed a UN Security Council resolution demanding an end to Israeli settlements, defying pressure from the Israeli government, which had reached out to President-elect Donald Trump for help in pressuring the Obama administration to veto the vote.
The Security Council approved the resolution 14-0, with the US abstaining.
Asked what the White House would say to Israeli officials who believe the US does not have their back, Rhodes said, “It’s just not backed up by the record. We just concluded a $38 billion tenure (memorandum of understanding) for security assistance to Israel.”
Rhodes said the resolution also condemns the incitement of violence, “which we’ve seen too often in Palestinian territory, which is also an impediment of peace. So, we made clear the responsibility is on both sides — the Palestinians to stop terrorism, to stop the incitement of violence, and the Israeli government to not continue with settlements that will make peace impossible.”
Reaction immediately followed the vote, with Palestinians cheering but harsh criticism coming from both Republicans and Democrats. Netanyahu’s office harshly criticized the Obama administration, accusing it of “colluding” at the UN to force the vote while also publicly saying the Israeli leader looked forward to working with Trump.
On Thursday, CNN reported the Israeli government reached out to Trump, to help pressure the Obama administration on the vote. Rhodes said having Trump get involved in the matter before he’s sworn in was “unusual.”
“After January 20, he will be responsible for the conduct of American policy. Until January 20, President Obama is. That’s how it works. There’s one president at a time,” Rhodes said.