Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is fuming over President Obama's abstention in last week's anti-Israel vote at the United Nations. Israelis warn Obama may have even more in store for the Jewish state before he leaves office.
Here's why they might be right.
Since September, if not well before that, Obama has been weighing a menu of possible actions to hammer Israel before leaving office. I know this because US officials openly admitted this to me. Indeed, they were almost boasting about it.
This is what we know of the options on Obama's menu:
The first was recognizing a Palestinian state. Mohammed Shtayyeh, an adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, called upon Obama to do this in the New York Times on Oct. 26. His piece was titled, "How to Save Obama's Legacy in Palestine." The piece didn't receive much attention at the time, given that such a move would fly in the face of decades of US policy.
Another option, as we now know, was to push for a resolution that took Israel to task for building settlements. Administration officials insisted that it wouldn't allow for such a measure if it lacked "balance." Apparently, last week's resolution, which denied Israel's right to the Western Wall, somehow met that criterion.
Obama was also mulling a "parameters resolution" at the United Nations, which would lay out the president's complete vision for a two-state solution — including everything from borders and Jerusalem to refugees and settlements. This seemed like a particularly tall order, given how difficult it can be for UN member states to agree on such complex issues — especially in such a short amount of time.
In the event Obama couldn't get traction at the United Nations, he had the option of a formal speech — the "Obama Parameters" — to delineate his full vision for the two-state solution and, at least in his view, have that speech endure as a milestone for future negotiations.
Finally, the president was reportedly mulling punitive measures against Israel, either by sanctions or new guidance at the IRS. The goal, it appeared, was to deny 501c3 tax-deductible status to US-based organizations that funded settlement construction. A US official confirmed to me that he was tasked with exploring sanctions opportunities, but found the prospect "legally challenging."
Interestingly, in an Oct. 6 press release, the controversial left-wing J Street lobby, which reportedly has good access to the Obama White House, openly called for denying "tax-deductible treatment for donations to NGOs that advance settlement expansion."
Fast forward to Obama's UN abstention last week — which his UN ambassador Samantha Power bizarrely tried to spin as pro-Israel in her speech after the vote. The media billed this as Obama's "parting shot," implying that this was his administration's last slap at Netanyahu after eight years of antagonism.
But there's no reason to think Obama isn't considering at least one of the other menu options — if not three.
Secretary of State John Kerry (not Obama) is now set to deliver a final speech on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The Israelis fear that this speech would present pre-packaged solutions for the thorniest negotiating issues, including borders and Jerusalem, making bilateral negotiations unnecessary for the Palestinians, who would get most of what they want. Israel's diplomatic leverage would be obliterated.
But wait, there's more. Israel's Channel 2 and the Times of Israel now report that Netanyahu fears Obama will take these parameters to the UN to be ratified by the international community.
And new reports suggest that Obama is preparing to recognize a Palestinian state at the Security Council.
The dangers of these final two moves cannot be overstated. They are tantamount to a green light for the Palestinians to launch, through diplomacy, lawfare or violence, a war to claim what Obama granted them. They would also set the stage for a tsunami of Arab and European delegitimization or economic-warfare efforts that the Israelis would be forced to battle for years to come.
Netanyahu has understandably reached out to President-elect Donald Trump, hoping he'll intervene. Trump can and apparently will try to mitigate the damage Obama has wrought — both before and after he becomes president.
The goal now for Team Trump is to come up with its own menu of options, both to protect America's only reliable Middle East ally from Obama's vicious broadside and to devise punitive measures against those who colluded with him. They should start by taking a hard look at the United Nations, the countries that voted in favor of Obama's parting shots and even those shameful elements of the US bureaucracy that are all too willing, under any administration, to gang up on the Jewish state.
Jonathan Schanzer is vice president for research at Foundation for Defense of Democracies.