Prime Minister Ehud Olmert placed a direct call to US President George W. Bush on Thursday, demanding that US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice not be allowed to vote in favor of a UN Human Rights Council condemnation of Israel's anti-Hamas Gaza war. According to Olmert, Bush's acquiescence, and his insistence that Rice back down from the resolution, made Rice sizzle.
"She was left pretty embarrassed," Olmert told the Associated Press.
According to an anonymous senior US official in Washington, the President originally intended for the US to cast an abstention ballot, not the vote in favor of the UN's resolution which Rice almost submitted. The non-binding resolution said Israel's security operation in Gaza "resulted in massive violations of human rights of the Palestinian people and systematic destruction of the Palestinian infrastructure."
"I said: 'Get me President Bush on the phone,'" Olmert explained during a speech to residents in the Hamas-targeted city of Ashkelon. "They said he was in the middle of giving a speech in Philadelphia," Olmert said. "I said I didn't care: 'I need to talk to him now.' He got off the podium and spoke to me."
After Olmert explained the resolution, and Israel's position on it, to Bush, the President called Rice to change the vote.
"He gave an order to the Secretary of State and she did not vote in favor of it - a resolution she cooked up, phrased, organized and maneuvered for. She was left pretty embarrassed and abstained on a resolution she arranged," Olmert said.
Despite Rice's abstention vote, she later stated that the United States only abstained from the resolution to make room for an Egyptian-French ceasefire initiative which was still being discussed.
PA Foreign Minister Riad Malki confirmed he was told America would vote in favor of the UN's condemnation of Israel. Malki said Rice even apologized to the Saudi foreign minister for the abstention, saying she would make it public that the US backed the resolution even though the country cast an abstention ballot.
After the resolution passed, Rice praised the Council for passing the resolution, which she called "a step toward our goals." Although she noted that the U.S. recognizes the right of Israel "like other states, to exercise its right of self-defense," she softened the statement by adding "We have said to Israel that it is obligated to take feasible steps to minimize the impact of any actions on civilians."
She also urged the Council to "keep our eye on the goal of Resolution 1850, which we passed in this chamber a short time ago. That is the goal of establishing an enduring commitment to mutual recognition; freedom from violence, incitement, and terror; and a two-state solution, building upon previous agreements and obligations. All UN member-states bear a responsibility to promote these principles and to help the parties toward the establishment of a State of Palestine to live in peace, side by side with the state of Israel."
At this week's cabinet meeting, Olmert slammed international calls for IDF restraint in Gaza.
"For many years we've demonstrated restraint. We reined our reactions. We bit our lips and took barrage after barrage," said Olmert in remarks at the opening of the weekly meeting of government ministers. "No country in the world – not even those who preach morality to us – would have shown similar patience and self-control."