JERUSALEM — President-elect Donald J. Trump thrust himself into one of the world’s most polarizing debates on Thursday by pressuring President Obama to veto a United Nations resolution critical of Israel, the newly elected leader’s most direct intervention in foreign policy during his transition to power.
Mr. Trump spoke out after Israeli officials contacted his team for help in blocking the draft resolution condemning settlement construction even as they lobbied its sponsor, Egypt. Within a couple of hours, Egypt withdrew the resolution, at least temporarily, and its president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, called Mr. Trump to discuss how “to establish true peace in the Middle East,” according to an aide to the president-elect.
Mr. Trump’s forceful intervention was a rare effort by a new president to shape international events even before taking office. While new presidents typically refrain from weighing in on current issues during the interregnum between their election and inauguration, Mr. Trump’s statement underscored that he does not plan to wait for the swearing in.
He has already upended decades of American policy by speaking directly with Taiwan’s leader, and he has spoken out regularly on events like this week’s terrorist attack in Germany. But his push to stop a United Nations resolution criticizing Israel was more directly aimed at decisions still being made by his predecessor in his final days in office.
The move also highlighted the stark shift on Middle East policy ahead when the new administration takes over in a month. Combined with his pledge to move the United States Embassy to Jerusalem and his selection of a pro-settlement ambassador to Israel, Mr. Trump’s involvement Thursday signaled an intent to play an active role in Middle East peace issues as a strong ally of Israel’s.
The Egyptian-sponsored resolution would have condemned Israeli housing construction in East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank as a “flagrant violation under international law” that was “dangerously imperiling the viability” of a future peace settlement establishing a Palestinian state. The United States has routinely used its veto at the Security Council to block similar measures, including under Mr. Obama in 2011. But Mr. Obama refused to commit to doing so again this time.
Mr. Trump said flatly that he should. “As the United States has long maintained, peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians will only come through direct negotiations between the parties and not through the imposition of terms by the United Nations,” the president-elect said. “This puts Israel in a very poor negotiating position and is extremely unfair to all Israelis.”
Mr. Trump amplified his position by posting the statement on Facebook and Twitter as well, but a transition official insisted on anonymity to confirm the president-elect’s conversation with Mr. Sisi because of the sensitivity of the matter. Mr. Trump’s words echoed the positions expressed by Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has welcomed Mr. Trump’s election as a breath of fresh air after years of clashes with Mr. Obama.
According to Security Council Report, an independent research organization, the United States has vetoed 30 resolutionsregarding Israel and the Palestinians, plus a dozen more regarding Israel and Lebanon or Syria, more than half of its 77 vetoes since the United Nations was founded in 1946.
Mr. Netanyahu cited that history on Thursday. “I hope the U.S. won’t abandon this policy,” he said. “I hope it will abide by the principles set by President Obama himself in his speech in the U.N. in 2011 — that peace will come not through U.N. resolutions, but only through direct negotiations between the parties.”
Frustrated by two failed efforts to broker peace between Israelis and Palestinians during his tenure, Mr. Obama has been considering an effort to lay out an American framework during his final days in office. Palestinian leaders and their allies had hoped he would allow the anti-settlement resolution at the United Nations to pass as an expression of frustration at Israeli policies.
A Palestinian delegation traveled to Washington this month to urge Mr. Obama’s team to support the anti-settlement resolution or at least abstain. Mr. Obama’s advisers did not disclose a position and were holding out until the vote to watch how the matter developed. The Palestinians were unable to meet with Mr. Trump’s aides and expressed disappointment on Thursday with his position. “A veto means support of settlement activities,” Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian negotiator, said after the resolution was pulled. “A veto means abandoning the two-state solution and peace efforts.”
Asked about Mr. Trump’s comments, a visibly upset Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations, Riyad Mansour, said, “He is acting on behalf of Netanyahu.”
The return of the Palestinian cause to the world stage could serve the interests of some Arab leaders eager to turn public attention away from troubles at home. The government of Mr. Sisi, which sponsored the resolution as the Arab representative on the Security Council, faces domestic challenges stemming from a deteriorating economy, a persistent Islamic terrorist insurgency and this month’s bombing of a Coptic Christian cathedral.
At the same time, it could distract from Mr. Netanyahu’s efforts to forge stronger relations with Sunni Arab nations on the basis of shared antipathy toward Iran, dominated by a Shiite theocracy that has threatened Israel’s existence and challenged Arab interests in the region. Arab leaders, who have largely overlooked the Palestinian issue in recent years, may feel pressured to distance themselves from Israel again if their own publics are angered at the treatment of Palestinians.
Egypt backed off on the resolution after Mr. Netanyahu’s government put pressure on Mr. Sisi’s government to withdraw it, shortly before Arab ambassadors meeting at the United Nations endorsed it.
Mr. Netanyahu treated the pending United Nations vote as a crisis, staying up late into the night discussing it with aides and posting on his own Twitter account, at 3:28 a.m. local time, a message urging Mr. Obama to veto what he called the “anti-Israel” resolution. “The Israelis leaned on the Egyptians this morning to postpone the vote, and the Egyptians basically caved,” said a Western official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the diplomatic sensitivity of the matter.
Arab officials met in Cairo on Thursday night to consider their next move. “The negotiations over the Arab proposal for the Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian territories are still not finished at both the United Nations and the Arab League’s anti-occupation committee,” said Ahmed Abu Zeid, a spokesman for the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, according to Egyptian state news.
If the White House had let the resolution pass, it would have been a symbolic blow to the diplomatic shield that the United States has always offered Israel. It would also have sent a strong signal of international disapproval over the construction of settlements, regarded by many as illegal under international law.
A former top Obama adviser suggested that the president should consider supporting the resolution because settlements are an obstacle to peace and therefore the real damage to Israel. “The resolution is about settlements, not negotiations,” Martin Indyk, a former special envoy under Mr. Obama, wrote on Twitter. “Vetoing would mean vetoing US policy on settlements.”
But Aaron David Miller, another former Middle East peace negotiator, said supporting the resolution would have plunged the administration into an issue that the past several administrations had avoided: the legality of the settlements.
“The problem with voting for this,” Mr. Miller said, “is that Trump will disavow it and U.S. credibility on the issue will again be undermined, not to mention what the Israelis might do on the ground in response, to which the new administration may acquiesce.”