By BENNY AVNI, Special to the Sun | May 27, 2020
As Attorney General Barr and General Michael Flynn battle in court to rescind the general’s guilty plea, a deeper look deserves to be taken at the phone conversations that underlay the controversy. The calls were, in part, meant to protect the incoming administration from an effort to cripple the Mideast policy on which Mr. Trump campaigned for office.
The effort to cripple Mr. Trump’s Mideast policy centered, in large part, on the UN Security Council’s Resolution 2334. There is a good account of this by Lee Smith, writing in Tablet Magazine. The resolution was designed to undercut Israel’s claims to Jerusalem. The general, in his guilty plea, claimed that he misled FBI agents when he told them that “on or about December 22 (2016), Flynn did not ask the Russian Ambassador to delay the vote on or defeat a pending United Nations Security Council resolution.”
Yet Mr. Flynn was absolutely right to undermine the resolution. Security Council resolution 2334 was widely seen as Mr. Obama’s parting shot against Benjamin Netanyahu. Mr. Obama was still fuming over the fact that Mr. Netanyahu had publicly denounced Mr. Obama’s articles of appeasement with Iran. Mr. Netanyahu saw the Iran deal as a threat to Israel. He marked the point memorably in his third speech to a joint meeting of Congress.
The real aim of 2334, though, was an attempt by Mr. Obama to tie the hands of the incoming Trump administration. It was particularly galling because Mr. Trump’s transition team — indeed, Mr. Trump himself during the campaign — had clearly signaled its intention to reverse Mr. Obama’s Israel policies.
Mr. Trump had specifically campaigned against the Obama administration’s view that Judea and Samaria and Jerusalem settlements were the top, perhaps only, stumbling block to peacemaking. Mr. Obama decided to forgo battles with Jerusalem-friendly lawmakers on Capitol Hill, where turning his Israel policy into a lasting legacy would be difficult. Instead, as in the Iran deal case, he turned to the friendly turf of the United Nations.
Ostensibly, resolution 2334 was an Egyptian idea. Cairo, as the Arab representative at the council, supposedly pushed a global condemnation of Israel’s settlement policies, rendering even Israel’s hold on Judaism’s holiest sites illegal in international law. In reality, as several diplomats told me at the time, Washington conceived, shaped and pushed the resolution.
Unlike in the past, when the American team at UN headquarters would consult with Israeli counterparts on measures involving their county, Ambassador Samantha Power’s team refused to return Israeli diplomats’ phone calls. “It’s your guess how the Americans will vote, because they sure don’t talk to me,” a senior Israeli diplomat told me at the time. Frozen out of the process, Jerusalem then turned to the Trump team.
Mr. Flynn, according to his guilty plea, discussed the proposed resolution with the Russian ambassador in Washington at the time, Sergei Kislyak. He also tried his luck with UN representatives from then-council members Uruguay and Malaysia. Also, the President-elect’s adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, spoke with Britain’s ambassador in Washington, Kim Darroch.
Then Mr. Trump got on the blower, calling President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi. The Cairo strongman seemed to realize he’d be better off on the good side of a soon-to-be president than carrying water for a less-than-friendly Mr. Obama.
Shortly after that December 22, 2016, call, Egypt’s UN team withdrew its proposed “settlements resolution.” Still, Ms. Power’s pressure prevailed, as the resolution’s cosponsors — New Zealand, Malaysia, and Venezuela — scheduled the vote for the next day anyway.
On December 23, 14 council members raised their hand in favor of the anti-Israel resolution. Ms. Power abstained, breaking from a long tradition of American vetoes of resolutions regarding Israel.
So who was the villain here? Was it General Flynn, who tried to return America to its familiar position on Israel’s side, or Mr. Obama’s aides, who used the United Nations to impose its failed policy on the incoming president?
Since Mr Flynn asked to rescind his guilty plea, much ink has been dedicated to the Logan Act — a law that since 1799 was tested only twice, yielding zero convictions.
Instead, Mr. Obama’s December 2016 maneuvering suggests a new act may be needed to regulate the actions of the presidency, rather than the citizens, during the lame duck transition period between the early November election and the late January inauguration.