The United States did not use its veto and 14 countries voted in favour of the resolution condemning settlements in the occupied West Bank
The UN Security Council on Friday passed a resolution demanding Israel to halt building settlements in occupied Palestinian territories.
The United States refused to use its veto, abstaining from voting, while the 14 other countries on the 15-member council voted in favour of the resolution.
“One cannot simultaneously champion expanding Israeli settlements and champion a viable two state solution that would end the conflict.”
-Samantha Power, US ambassador to the UN
The US ambassador to the UN Samantha Power said that because the resolution “reflects the facts on the ground and is consistent with US policy… we did not veto it.”
Israel’s UN ambassador criticised the US abstention, saying he had “no doubt” the new Donald Trump administration and new UN secretary general would usher in a new era in UN-Israel ties.
The resolution, brought to the vote by non-Arab nations, demanded that Israel “immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem” and said the establishment of settlements by Israel has “no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law.”
Power hit back at the Israeli criticism.
“The United States has been sending a message that the settlements must stop privately and publicly for nearly five decades,” she told the Security Council after the vote.
“One cannot simultaneously champion expanding Israeli settlements and champion a viable two state solution that would end the conflict. One had to make a choice between settlements and separation.”
Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, who is close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said the United States abandoned Israel by abstaining from voting on Friday.
“This is a day of victory for international law.”
-Saeb Erekat, Palestinian official
“This is not a resolution against settlements, it is an anti-Israel resolution, against the Jewish people and the state of the Jews. The United States tonight has simply abandoned its only friend in the Middle East,” Steinitz told Channel Two News.
Power hit back, saying that “continued settlement building seriously undermines Israel’s security.”
The repercussions of the vote were felt at home as well for the US delegation, with US House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan and Senator John McCain, both Republicans, blasting the Obama administration’s decision.
Ryan said in a statement the US abstention was “absolutely shameful” and a “blow to peace”. McCain said in a statement the US move “has made us complicit in this outrageous attack.”
Meanwhile, Palestinian officials hailed the resolution as a victory against the occupation. The Palestinian presidency said the vote was a “big blow” to Israel.
“This is a day of victory for international law, a victory for civilised language and negotiation and a total rejection of extremist forces in Israel,” Chief Palestinian Negotiator Saeb Erekat told Reuters.
“The international community has told the people of Israel that the way to security and peace is not going to be done through occupation … but rather through peace, ending the occupation and establishing a Palestinian state to live side by side with the state of Israel on the 1967 line.”
The US decision to abstain was a relatively rare step by Washington, which usually shields Israel from such action.
It is the first resolution the Security Council has adopted on Israeli-Palestinian conflict in nearly eight years.
The US abstention was seen as a parting shot by US President Barack Obama, who has had an uneasy relationship with Netanyahu.
A resolution needs nine votes in favour and no vetoes by the United States, France, Russia, Britain or China to be adopted.
Resolution passed… eventually
New Zealand, Malaysia, Senegal and Venezuela requested a vote after Egypt, under pressure from US President-elect Donald Trump, sought to delay the measure.
The resolution drafted by the Palestinians and initially presented by Egypt on behalf of the Arab Group had unleashed a frenzy of lobbying by Israel to block it.
Egypt had circulated the draft to the council late Wednesday and requested a vote the following day, but backtracked just hours before that meeting.
The Egyptian presidency confirmed that the delay was decided during a phone call between President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Trump.
Israel had asked Trump to intervene after learning that Washington, in a reversal of its policy under Obama, would not veto the resolution, an Israeli official said.
“This resolution is a Palestinian initiative which is intended to harm Israel,” said Israeli Ambassador Danny Danon after prospects for the vote were revived.
“We call on the United States to stand by us and we expect our greatest ally to continue with its long-standing policy and to veto this resolution.”
Trump calls Sisi
The Egyptian turnaround surprised many but follows repeated expressions of admiration for Trump by Sisi, a former military chief who overthrew his Muslim Brotherhood-backed predecessor in 2013 leading Obama to temporarily suspend military aid to Cairo.
A Egyptian statement said “the two leaders agreed on the importance of giving the new administration a chance to deal comprehensively with all the aspects of the Palestinian cause to achieve a comprehensive settlement.”
The French ambassador stressed that the draft resolution “does not exclusively focus on settlements. It also condemns the violence and terrorism. It also calls to prevent all incitement from the Palestinian side so this is a balanced text.”
“The key goal that we have here is to preserve and reaffirm the two state-solution,” said François Delattre.
Obama’s administration has expressed mounting anger over the continued expansion of Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian West Bank.
“After becoming aware that the (US) would not veto the anti-Israel resolution, Israeli officials reached out to Trump’s transition team to ask for the president-elect’s help to avert the resolution,” an Israeli official said on condition of anonymity.
Israeli settlements are seen as a major stumbling block to peace efforts, as they are built on land the Palestinians see as part of their future state.
Trump, who campaigned on a promise to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, had bluntly said Washington should use its veto to block the resolution.
“The resolution being considered at the United Nations Security Council regarding Israel should be vetoed,” he said in a statement.
“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.”
Trump has chosen as ambassador to Israel the hardliner David Friedman, who has said Washington will not pressure Israel to curtail settlement building in the occupied West Bank.