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US vetoes UN resolution on Israeli settlements

February 19, 2011

In this photo released by the United Nations, 14 members of the UN Security Council vote in favor of a draft resolution condemning Israeli settlement activity, Friday, Feb. 18, 2011. The United States vetoed the resolution that would have condemned “illegal” Israeli settlements and demanded an immediate halt to all settlement building. – AP Photo

UNITED NATIONS: The United States vetoed an Arab-sponsored UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements, putting Washington at risk of heightening tensions with the Arab world.

Despite a flurry of diplomacy from US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Palestinians rejected a compromise move and forced a UN vote on the resolution declaring settlements illegal.

Fourteen of the 15 Security Council members voted in favor of the resolution, with the US imposing its veto power — the first time the Obama administration has wielded its resolution-killing clout at the UN.

The US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, said Washington was “regrettably” slapping down the draft resolution and warned it should not be seen by Israel as US backing for continued settlement building in east Jerusalem and the West Bank.

But she said the United States — one of five permanent Security Council members with the power of a veto — did not believe the United Nations was the best place to seek to resolve the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“This draft resolution risks hardening the positions of both sides,” Rice said. “It could encourage the parties to stay out of negotiations.”

The resolution, sponsored by 130 countries, “reaffirms that the Israeli settlements established in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, are illegal and constitute a major obstacle to the achievement of a just, lasting and comprehensive peace.”

It also “reiterates its demand that Israel, the occupying power, immediately and completely ceases all settlement activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.”

The row is dealing a further blow to the US bid to forge a Palestinian state this year, which fell into disarray after Israeli-Palestinian talks collapsed in 2010 over the expiry of a moratorium on Jewish settlement building.

In a bid to appease the Palestinians, the United States had offered to sign up to a non-binding Security Council presidential statement condemning settlement building — raising the ire of US lawmakers who back Israel.

The United States has traditionally used its veto power in the Security Council, a body Israel deems as deeply biased, to shield the Jewish state from censure. It argues a peace process and not the UN is the proper forum for such disputes.

Washington says it views construction of new Israeli settlements on land claimed by Palestinians as counterproductive to peace hopes.

“While we agree with our fellow council members and indeed with the wider world about the folly and illegitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity, we think it unwise for this council to attempt to resolve the core issues that divide Israelis and Palestinians,” Rice said.

But the Palestinians are frustrated that Washington has not done more to rein in the construction of Jewish settlements, which they say are altering on-the-ground realities for territory they claim as part of their future state.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas on Friday turned down a request by Obama to withdraw the motion for condemnation and settle instead for a council statement calling for an Israeli settlement freeze.

One senior Palestinian official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP the offer, made in an hour-long phone call late Thursday from Obama, was accompanied by veiled threats of “repercussions” if it were refused.

“There will be repercussions for Palestinian-American relations if you continue your attempts to go to the Security Council and ignore our requests in this matter, especially as we suggested other alternatives,” the official quoted Obama as telling Abbas. US officials declined to characterize the call.

Rice had proposed a three-fold package of incentives for Palestinians: a non-binding Security Council statement condemning settlement activity, a visit by a UN Security Council delegation to the region and a Mideast Quartet statement referring to 1967 borders in reference to a Palestinian state.