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Samantha Power Outlines Why U.S. Abstained in Passed U.N. Vote on Settlements. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired December 23, 2016 - 14:30   ET


[14:30:00:] SAMANTHA POWER, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: One would think it would be a routine vote for the U.S. to allow the passage of a resolution with the elements in this one reaffirming the long- standing U.S. position on settlements, condemning violence and incitement, and calling for parties to start taking steps to reduce trends on the ground. These are well-articulated components of U.S. policy, but in reality, this vote for us was not straightforward because of where it is taking place at the United Nation.

The simple truth is that as long as Israel has been a member of this institution. Israel has been treated differently from other nations at the United Nations. And not only in decades' past -- such as the resolution the General Assembly adopted in 1975 with the support of the majority of member states officially determining that Zionism is a form of racism. But also, in 2016, this year, one need only one need only to look at the 12 Israel-specific resolutions documented in the human rights council, more than those focused on Syria, North Korea, Iran and South Sudan put together.

Today, in 2016, Israel continues to be treated differently from other states. Like U.S. administrations before it, the Obama administration has worked tirelessly to fight for Israel's right to be treated just like any other country, from advocating for Israel to be granted membership to a U.N. regional body, something no other member state had been denied, to fighting to ensure that Israeli NGOs are not denied U.N. accreditation simply because they are Israeli, to getting Yom Kippur recognized as a U.N. holiday. to pressing this council to break its indefensible silence in response to terrorist attacks on Israelis. As the United States said, it not only hurts Israel but undermines the legitimacy of the United Nations itself.

The practice of treating Israel differently matters for votes like this one, for even if one believes the resolution proposed today is justified, or more necessitated by events on the ground, one cannot completely separate the vote from the venue. And member states that say they are for two-state solution must ask themselves some difficult questions. For those states that are quick to promote resolutions condemning Israel but refuse to recognize when innocent Israelis are the victims of terrorism, what steps will you take to stop treating Israel differently? For those states that passionately denounce the closures of crossings in Gaza as exacerbating the humanitarian situation but say nothing of the resources diverted from helping Gaza's residents to dig tunnels into Israeli territory so the terrorists can attack Israeli's in their homes, what will you do to end the double standard that undermines the legitimacy of this institution?

Member states should also ask themselves about the double standards when it comes to this council taking action. Just this morning, we came together as a council and we were unable to muster the will to act to stop the flow of weapons going to killers in South Sudan who are perpetrating mass atrocities that the U.N. Has said could lead to genocide. We couldn't come together just to stem the flow of arms. Earlier this month, this council could not muster the will to adopt the simplest of resolutions calling for a seven-day pause in the savage bombardment of innocent civilians, hospitals and schools in Aleppo. Yet, when a resolution on Israel comes before the council, members suddenly summon the will to act. It's because this forum too often continues to be biased against Israel, because there are important issues that are not sufficiently addressed in this resolution, and because the United States does not agree with every word in this text that the United States did not vote in favor of the resolution. But it is because this resolution reflects the facts on the ground and is consistent with U.S. policy across Republican and Democratic administrations throughout the history of the state of Israel that the United States did not veto it.

The United States has consistently said we would block any resolution that we thought would undermine Israel's security or seek to impose a resolution to the conflict. We would not have let this resolution pass had it not also addressed counterproductive actions by the Palestinians, such as terrorism and incitement to violence, which we've repeatedly condemned and repeatedly raised with the Palestinian leadership and which, of course, must be stopped.

Unlike some on the U.N. Security Council, we do not believe that outside parties can impose a solution that has not been negotiated by the two parties. Nor can we unilaterally rise a future Palestinian state. But it is precisely our commitment to Israel's security that makes the United States believe we cannot stand in the way of this resolution as we seek to preserve a chance of attaining our long- standing objective, two states living side by side in peace and security.

[14:35:28] Let me explain why. The settlement problem has gotten so much work, it's putting at terrific very viability of that two-state solution. The number of settlers in the roughly 150 authorized Israeli settlements east of the 1967 lines has increased dramatically. Since the 1993 signing of the Oslo Accords, which launched efforts that made a comprehensive and lasting peace possible, the number of settlers has increased by 355,000. The total settler population in the West Bank east and Jerusalem now exceeds 590,000. Nearly 90,000 settlers are living east of the separation barrier that was created by Israel itself. And just since July, 2016, when the Middle East quartet issued a report highlighting international concern about a systematic process of land seizures, settlement expansions and legalizations, Israel has advanced plans for more than 2,600 new settlement units. Yet, rather than dismantling these and other settler outposts which are illegal even under Israeli law, now there is new legislation advancing in the Israeli Knesset that would legalize most of the outposts, a factor of the decision by this resolution's sponsors to bring it before the council. The Israeli prime minister recently described his government as "more

committed to settlements than any in Israel's histories" and one of his leading coalition partners recently declared "the era of the two- state solution is over." At the same time, the prime minister has said he is still committed to pursuing a two-state solution but these statements are irreconcilable. One cannot simultaneously champion expanding Israeli settlements and champion a viable two state solution that would end the conflict. One has to make a choice between settlements and separation.

In 2011, the United States vetoed a resolution that focused exclusively on settlements, as if settlements were the only factor harming the prospects of a two-state solution. The circumstances have changed dramatically. Since 2011, settlement growth has only accelerated. Since 2011, multiple efforts to pursue peace through negotiations have failed. And since 2011, President Obama and Secretary Kerry have repeatedly warned publicly and privately that the absence of progress toward peace and continued settlement expansion was going to put the two-state solution at risk and threaten Israel's stated objective to remain both a Jewish state and a democracy.

Moreover, unlike in 2011, this resolution condemns violence, terrorism and incitement which also poses an extremely grave risk to the two- state solution. This resolution reflects trends that will permanently destroy the hope of a two-state solution if they continue on their current course.

The United States has not taken the step of supporting this resolution because the resolution is too narrowly focused on settlement when we all should know many other factors contribute to the tensions that perpetuate this conflict.

Let be clear, even if every single settlement were to be dismantled tomorrow, peace would not be attainable without both sides acknowledging uncomfortable truths and making difficult choices. That's an indisputable fact, yet it's too often overlooked by members of the United Nations and members of this council.

For Palestinian leaders, that means recognizing the obvious, that in addition to taking innocent lives, the incitement to violence, the glorification of terrorists and the growth of violence extremism erodes prospects for peace as this resolution makes crystal clear. The most recent wave of Palestinian violence has seen terrorists commit hundreds of attacks, including driving cars into crowds of innocent civilians and stabbing mothers in front of their children. Yet, rather than condemn these attacks, other radical factions and certain members of Fatah have held up the terrorists as heroes and used social media to incite others to follow in their murderous footsteps. And while President Abbas and his party's leaders have made clear their opposition to violence, terrorism and extremism, they have too often failed to condemn specific attacks or condemn the praise heaped upon the perpetrators.

[14:39:58] Our vote today does not in any way diminish the United States' steadfast and unparalleled commitment to the security of the only democracy in the Middle East. We would not have let this pass had it not also addressed counterproductive actions by the Palestinians. We have to recognize that Israel faces very serious threats in a very tough neighborhood. Israelis are rightfully concerned about making sure there is not a new terrorist haven next door.

President Obama and this administration have shown an unprecedented commitment to Israel's security because that is what we believe in. Our commitment to that security has never wavered and it never will. Even with a financial crisis and budget deficits we repeatedly increase funding to support Israel's military and in September the Obama administration signed a Memorandum of Understanding to provide $38 billion in security assistance to Israel over the next 10 years. The largest single pledge of military assistance --

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: We've been listening to the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, outline why the U.S. was the only U.N. Security Council member to abstain, even though this resolution has passed, which would deem it illegal for the Israeli government to continue these settlements in disputed territories. So, U.S. being the one abstention.

Elise Labott is with me, and Oren Libermann in in Jerusalem, and CNN's global affairs analyst, Aaron David Miller, is also here, walking through the ramifications of this.

Elise, to you, the U.S. abstention, was that a surprise?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: It wasn't a surprise, Brooke, because we had known for the last day or that the Obama administration was planning to do this. Yesterday that vote was supposed to take place in the afternoon and we understand President Obama was prepared to let it pass by exercising an abstention or just voting for it in favor of it. So, what happened, you saw this diplomatic flurry yesterday. You had President-elect Trump come out putting a statement for the U.S. to veto, there was a diplomatic flurry between Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Egyptian President Sisi, whose country offered that resolution then there was a call between Trump and President Sisi. There was a whole diplomatic scramble to stop this from going ahead.

Now, what happened was Egypt took the resolution off the table and other countries that were interested in putting it through -- New Zealand, Malaysia, Senegal, Venezuela -- they went forward. They re- presented it and that gave it an opportunity to pass.

I have to say, even though we knew they were planning on doing it, this is not only in defiance and snubbing what the Israelis said that they are hoping the U.S. would continue its long-standing protection at the U.N., this is in defiance of Obama's own party. You saw the Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer come out with a strong statement urging the U.S. to veto. So, I think it's a significant move, which the Israelis feel undermines anything that President-elect Trump would do when he came in. That it would tie his hands a little bit if he were to try to negotiate Middle East peace, something he said he would want to do. But from the U.S. point of view the settlement issue has dogged the

U.S. in its efforts for peace. They call it an obstacle for peace over the last eight years and of course you can't neglect that this is a parting shot by President Obama to Prime Minister Netanyahu with whom he had a rocky relationship at best over the last eight years.

BALDWIN: Yep, yep.

Oren Liebermann, have you heard anything from the prime minister? Any reaction to this?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESONDENT: Not from the prime minister yet and that may be because it's the Sabbath and there may not be a response until after. But we've gotten a response from the Israeli ambassador to the U.N. He says, "Neither the Security Council nor UNESCO can sever the ties between the people of Israel and the land of Israel. It was to be expected that Israel's greatest ally would react in the value we share and that they would have vetoed this resolution. I have no doubt the new U.S. administration and the incoming U.N. secretary general will usher in a new era in terms of the U.N.'s relationship with Israel."

That, too, seems to be a bit of a parting shot at the president. The ambassador saying, "That the Israeli administration is looking forward to work with President-elect Trump who said he would move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. That is something the Israeli government and Netanyahu's administration was happy to hear."

As Elise mentioned, the Israelis worked furiously to see if they could head off the resolution, taking the unprecedented act of reaching out to the president-elect. That, as we have learned, failed. They weren't able to change that abstention to a veto. Worth pointing out Egypt still voted in favor of it when it was reintroduced today.

[14:45:02] BALDWIN: Aaron David Miller, hearing both of them and noting parting shots back and forth between Israel and the U.S. adding in the layer that we know Israel had reached out to Mr. Trump to jump in and denounce this, what do you make of it.

AARON DAVID MILLER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST (voice-over): I think the last two days may have actually created a situation, with tweets by the president-elect, calls from the Israelis, calls from Trump to President Sisi, it may well have been that the administration had planned to vote yes on this resolution. The last two days may have altered that position to an extent.

But by and large, in my judgment, this was inevitable. It was a train that could not be stopped. For eight years, the Obama administration has fretted, frustrated, paralyzed in the face of what they consider to be massive increase in settlement activity undermining the prospects for a two-state solution, which, I might add, is at best comatose and couldn't even be attained 13 years ago, 14 years ago, when they were at Camp David under the Clinton administration, in much more ideal conditions. So, frustration was mounting. The Obama administration talked tough about settlements, have done

very little concrete things to stop them. I think they warned Mr. Netanyahu if he continued the U.S. would not be able to face of international pressure, quote/unquote, "to defend the Israelis," and they wanted to shape to some degree the environment going forward.

I think Elise's notion that this was a parting shot at the Israelis, I would argue that's right. It was a parting shot in defense of what the Obama administration and Secretary Kerry believe to be the waning hopes of a two-state solution. My concern, however, is that this is going to produce the opposite impact of what the administration intended. I can't even imagine that President-elect Trump has even waited to tweet and disavow and to distance himself personally and after four weeks from today, Brooke --


BALDWIN: 27 days.

MILLER: From today, right, President Trump's policies with respect to settlement activity. That's negative impact number one. He's going to walk away from this confusing and confounding American allies as to what exactly the U.S. does stand for when it comes to stopping Israeli settlement activity.

I think Mr. Netanyahu will be under pressure from his right to demonstrate that they are not going to take this sitting down, so to speak. They may accelerate their activities on the ground and finally it may well be -- and this is what we do not know -- is what the putative Trump administration policies on settlement activity will be but the appointment of Mr. Friedman suggests it's going to be a lot less muscular, to say the least, than the current administration. It's very difficult -- final point -- sorry to drone on.

BALDWIN: No, i'm hanging on your every word.

MILLER: It's very difficult five minutes to midnight four weeks from the inauguration of another president to basically engage in an action which has not been taken probably since the Bush 41 administration in terms of allowing such a resolution to pass, however balanced, whatever ingredients the administration succeeded in pushing for.

In the end, it's very difficult at the 11th hour to do something like this because the explanation is now for sure that President-elect Trump is going to walk away from this thereby in my judgment, having provided by both good and bad advice to a half dozen secretaries of state, walk away from this which is going to further undermine the credibility and integrity of the United States. So, this is a migraine headache for everyone and I think it basically is not going to end well.

BALDWIN: Well, a lot of unknowns you point out, Aaron.

And let me -- before I let you all go - just not unknown is the response from the most powerful Republican on Capitol Hill, who, by the way, will be working in tandem, of course, with the Trump administration, House Speaker Paul Ryan. This is what he just said in reaction: "This is absolutely shameful. Today's vote is a blow to peace that sets a dangerous precedent for further diplomatic efforts to isolate and demonize Israel. Our unified Republican government will work to reverse the damage done by this administration and rebuild our alliance with Israel." Paul Ryan.

Aaron David Miller, Oren Liebermann, Elise Labott, thank you so much.

[14:50:07] Coming up on CNN, we'll take you back to our breaking news. The FBI issuing this new warning about possible ISIS threats here in the United States days before Christmas at churches. What to know about churches. A live report on that coming up.


BALDWIN: Christmas greetings from one of the world's most powerful men to someone who's about to join that club. President-elect Donald Trump releasing a letter he received from Russian President Vladimir Putin, and within it, Putin writes this, "I hope that after you assume the position of the president of the United States of America, we will be able by acting in a constructive and pragmatic manner to take real steps to restore the framework of bilateral cooperation in different areas as well as bring out a level of collaboration on the international scene to a qualitatively new level."

Let me bring in CNN political commentators, Kayleigh McEnany and Angela Rye.

Ladies, great to have you on.

Kayleigh, let me get to you.

We have Trump's response to that Putin letter. He writes, quote, "A very nice letter from Vladimir Putin, his thoughts are so correct. I hope both sides are able to live up to these thoughts and we don't have to travel an alternate path."

Starts out nice. Ends a tad foreboding. What's your interpretation?

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That was fascinating. It was like an admonition, saying it would be great if we can work things out but if you decide to go an alternate path we will have to take one and what does that mean? It would probably come in the form of sanctions. We know the United States economy is 13 times the size of Russia's. We know Donald Trump has appointed Rex Tillerson as secretary of state. He's obviously an expert of oil and gas, being the head of Exxon-Mobil, and we know Russia thrives on oil and gas. So, he has the perfect secretary of state, where if Russia goes off course and tries any funny business under the Trump administration, he has the secretary of state who knows how to make it hurt for Russia. We hope he can make Russia into some sort of partner, but if history is an indicator, that hasn't worked out well.

[14:55:45] BALDWIN: Rex Tillerson, being with Exxon-Mobil, he has this mega deal with Russia, with regard with oil, and he, too, has said in the past, as has Putin, very outspoken in letting those sanctions go.

Angela Rye, what do you think?

ANGELA RYE, CNN POLTICAL COMMENTATOR: It's interesting. I don't think this was the tough guy talk at all that Kayleigh just brought up. I think this is a letter he released after it's been established that Russians were to blame if the DNC hacks during the election. This was the letter that was released after it's been established by all of our nation's security -- national security agencies this after a Kayleigh's point. This appointment was made. This nomination, this suggestion of Rex Tillerson being secretary of state and a clear friend of Russia. This after Putin said that when none no one else believed Donald Trump would win the election, Russia believed it would so this love fest is not funny and i'm just wondering if Donald Trump think this is a game. He continues to push out policies, he pushes government contractors on twitter and i'm wondering when he's going to take the job of president and just right now president-elect kind of serious, it's entirely problematic and it's time for him to potentially accept more intelligence briefings so he understands this is very serious and not at all a game.

BALDWIN: Kayleigh, I want to see you jump in.

MCENANY: What's fascinating is we didn't hear this kind of talk from the left eight years ago, notably after Russia invaded Georgia during the Bush administration. We saw Obama come in and Obama stood in Putin's House and praised the extraordinary work Putin had done on behalf of the Russian people and talked about how they have an excellent opportunity to partner with one another. He was very -- the Russian reset. He was very light when it came to Russia and Democrats then were extolling him for trying to craft this new relationship. That didn't work out. Trump is trying to forge this new strategic partnership. Whether it works we will see. But I can promise you this, you won't have Russia annexing Crimea or invading Ukraine like we've seen under the feckless leadership of Barack Obama.

BALDWIN: We have 27 days.

RYE: That's an interesting point --


BALDWIN: We don't know which way this is going to go. I wish I had more time. We don't know. We'll give Mr. Trump and -- some time to see how it will look with regard to Russia and this talk.

We have to go, ladies. So sorry.

Kayleigh and Angela, thank you very much. We will have more on this.


BALDWIN: Still ahead, we wanted to get back to our breaking news. The FBI issuing a new warning about possible threats from ISIS involving churches and holiday gatherings here in the U.S. We have new details on that coming up. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

[14:59:53] BALDWIN: Top of the hour. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for being with me.

Breaking news from the FBI. They're issuing a new warning about possible threats from ISIS days before Christmas and Hanukah here in the United States.

Our justice correspondent, Evan Perez, is here with the news from DHS and FBI.

What is the warning?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, this comes as --