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Israel summons ambassadors for rebuke over UN vote

Israel on Sunday summoned ambassadors of countries that belong to the UN Security Council for a Christmas Day reprimand for their support of a resolution condemning Israel’s illegal settlements on Palestinian lands.

The UK was among the countries which saw its diplomats called into Israel’s ministry of foreign affairs on Sunday. David Quarrey, Britain’s ambassador to Israel, told the Financial Times. While Mr Quarrey was in the UK; British diplomat Tony Kay was summoned in his place.

The ambassador of the US, which abstained in Friday’s vote, was not among the envoys summoned, the Israeli foreign ministry said, but those of countries who backed the resolution were.

The move came as Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu cancelled a visit to Israel by Volodymyr Groysman, his Ukrainian counterpart, and accused US President Barack Obama of “disgraceful” behaviour for failing to exercise the US veto. Mr Groysman had due to arrive in Israel on Wednesday on his first official visit to the Jewish state.

Israel will also suspend some of its funding to the UN, Mr Netanyahu said in a vituperative speech on Saturday evening, in which he warned of further diplomatic and economic retaliation against countries that opposed Israel in international bodies. The Israeli leader vowed to work with incoming US President Donald Trump and members of Congress to fight “all-out war against this resolution”, in his sharpest public attack ever on Mr Obama.

“The resolution that was passed at the UN yesterday is part of the swan song of the old world that is biased against Israel but, my friends, we are entering a new era,” Mr Netanyahu said at a Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony. “And just as President-elect Trump said yesterday, it will happen much sooner than you think.”

The UN Security Council on Friday passed a resolution demanding that Israel “immediately and completely cease all settlement activities”, and calling on member states to distinguish between Israel and the territories, including East Jerusalem, that it occupied in the 1967 Six Day War.

While the resolution is expected to have little immediate effect, Israelis worry that it could pave the way for sanctions or other punitive measures taken by the international community against the settlements. Palestinians have welcomed the resolution as a belated move by the US and the world to uphold its 1967 borders and condemn the settlements they say are eroding their historic homeland.

Israel’s western allies, including the outgoing Obama administration in the US, have voiced disquiet over Israel’s continued building in settlements, which are deemed illegal under international law and which the outside world see as a primary obstacle to the creation of a viable Palestinian state.

New Zealand’s Foreign Minister Murray McCully, told the New Zealand Herald that Friday’s UN vote was “a victory for those who are keen to see the Security Council take some action on the Middle East peace process after eight years of complete inaction”.

Mr Netanyahu’s hard-right coalition government, under pressure from pro-settlement ministers in its ranks, has put forward in the Knesset a bill legalising wildcat settler “outposts” scattered around the northern West Bank which, say critics, make the already questionable chances of a two-state solution more remote. Some ministers are pushing for outright annexation of more than half of the West Bank that is under direct Israeli administrative control, known as Area C.

Mr Netanyahu’s government is likely to get new support in pursuing hardline policies toward the Palestinians when Mr Trump, who has promised to be the most pro-Israel president in history, takes office on January 20. Foreign diplomats in Israel had, before Friday’s vote, speculated that Mr Obama might withhold the US veto on a resolution critical of Israel as a way of putting down legal parameters on the conflict and the two-state solution before leaving office.

Mr Trump said on Saturday that the UN vote was “a big loss yesterday for Israel in the United Nations will make it much harder to negotiate peace.”

“All American presidents since (Jimmy) Carter upheld the American commitment not to try to dictate permanent settlement terms to Israel at the Security Council,” Mr Netanyahu said on Saturday evening. “And yesterday, in complete contradiction of this commitment, including an explicit commitment by President Obama himself in 2011, the Obama carried out a shameful anti-Israel ploy at the UN.”

Israel responded to Friday’s vote by withdrawing its ambassadors to New Zealand and Senegal, which sponsored the resolution, and cutting off aid to Senegal, where Israel is involved in a poverty alleviation programme that it cosponsors with Italy.

Mr Netanyahu also ordered the freezing of 30m Israeli shekels ($7.8m) of aid to UN institutions he said were especially hostile to Israel. He hinted at further retaliatory measures against countries that supported the resolution, saying “there’s more to come”.

“Those who work with us will benefit because Israel has much to give to the countries of the world,” he said. “But those who work against us will lose, because there will be a diplomatic and economic price for their actions against Israel.”

The UN resolution on settlements brought an angry reaction from other Israeli politicians. Avigdor Lieberman, the hardline defence minister, ordered an end to diplomatic contacts between Israeli military officers and officials in President Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority, although he said security co-operation between the two sides would continue.

Naftali Bennett, head of the far-right Jewish Home party and a partner in Mr Netanyahu’s six-party coalition, said on Sunday that his party would proceed with a proposed bill that would annex Ma’ale Adumim, a large Jewish settlement in the West Bank near Jerusalem, in response to the Security Council resolution.

The UN Security Council votes to pass a resolution condemning Israeli settlement construction, which shows the US ambassador Samantha Power, top centre, abstaining © EPA

Via FT