New Zealand meeting calls into question White House narrative on role in UN vote

The US publicly told its partners on the Security Council that it would consider each draft resolution on its merit, but says that it never indicated how it would vote– up until the vote itself.

December 24, 2016 05:33
2 minute read.
US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks to the press at NATO headquarters in Brussels

US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks to the press at NATO headquarters in Brussels. (photo credit: AFP PHOTO)


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WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration insists it was disciplined in its silence over how it would ultimately vote on resolutions related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that ultimately reached the UN Security Council, where it holds veto power.

Hours before such a vote was set to take place– on a resolution condemning Israel's settlement activity– one senior administration official told The Jerusalem Post that the president's team "was not involved in formulating the resolution, nor have we promoted it."

"We have not communicated to any UN Security Council members how the United States would vote if the resolution comes before the UN Security Council," the official said.

But the Israeli government has publicly accused the Obama administration of "colluding" with its drafters to ensure that the right resolution with just the right language came forward for a vote. The US publicly told its partners on the Security Council that it would consider each draft resolution on its merit, but says that it never indicated how it would vote– up until the vote itself, which took place on Friday afternoon. The US abstained, allowing the resolution to pass.

The Israeli government provided no clear evidence to back its claim that the Obama administration worked to promote the effort. But one public engagement by Secretary of State John Kerry last month may offer some clues as to how Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government reached its conclusion.
Israel, Palestinian ambassadors to UN give speeches before vote on settlement resolution

Kerry visited New Zealand on November 13, shortly after the US presidential election, and took part in "deep" conversation over how its government– which holds a non-permanent seat on the Security Council until the end of this calendar year– could engage in a UN-related initiative on the Middle East peace process.

"It is a conversation we are engaged in deeply and we've spent some time talking to Secretary Kerry about where the US might go on this," New Zealand's foreign minister, Murray McCully, told local reporters after the meeting, according to the New Zealand Herald. "It is something that is still in play."

"I think there are some very important decisions that the Obama administration is going to have to make in its lame-duck period on this issue," he added.

Egypt drafted the resolution that ultimately condemned Israel's settlement enterprise as an illegal operation contrary to the pursuit of peace with the Palestinians. The resolution also condemned incitement to violence by the Palestinian authorities.

The Egyptians coordinated on the language with the Palestinian Authority, whose chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, met with Kerry at the State Department on December 12. Israeli officials believe it was at this meeting that Kerry first relayed the president's willingness to abstain.

The White House said on Friday that US President Barack Obama had not decided how to proceed until hours before the vote.

Last minute, however, the Egyptian government pulled its own draft– due to pressure from the Israeli government, according to Western diplomatic sources, and after President-elect Donald Trump called publicly and privately for the resolution to be scrapped.

The draft was then dusted off by New Zealand, which formally introduced the resolution for a vote.

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