JERUSALEM – The Obama administration, opposing 14 other U.N. Security Council members, exercised its veto power for the first time Friday to kill a resolution calling for Israeli settlements to be condemned as illegal and seeking to halt construction.
Though the resolution largely echoed long-standing criticism by the U.S. and international leaders about Israel’s construction on land acquired during the 1967 Mideast war, the Obama administration rejected the proposal, saying the U.N. is not the proper forum and the dispute should be handled during peace talks.
The Arab-backed resolution called Israel’s settlements a major obstacle to Mideast peace talks.
“The American veto does not serve the peace process,” said Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. “It only encourages Israel to continue in its settlement activities and to avoid meeting its peace obligations. We are surprised by this position, which will only further complicate the situation in the Middle East.”
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice called the resolution “unbalanced and one-sided” and said the veto decision came in the interest of preserving conditions for future negotiations. The U.S. remains focused on the goal of a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians and considers Israeli settlement activity as “corrosive to the process,” she said.
U.S.-brokered peace talks broke down last fall over Palestinian protests about Israel’s resumption of settlement expansion.
“Our judgment was this resolution wouldn’t have advanced the goal to get the parties closer to an agreement,” Rice said.
The 14 other Security Council members voted in favor of the resolution Friday.
The vote was seen by both Israelis and Palestinians as a crucial test of American loyalty. After two bumpy years between Israel’s right-wing government and the Obama administration, Israelis were looking for reassurances that the U.S. would continue to protect their interests in the U.N. body as past presidents have done. Most recently, Israelis accused Obama of “abandoning” his allies in the region, such as deposed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
Palestinian Authority officials saw the vote as a measure of Obama’s ability and willingness to act as an unbiased intermediary in Mideast peace talks and stand up to Israeli pressure. Some critics said the U.S. veto exposed what they called American hypocrisy.
“President Obama wants to tell the Arab world in his speeches that he opposes settlements, but he won’t let the Security Council tell Israel to stop them in a legally binding way,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
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