WASHINGTON – The Obama administration exercised its first UN Security Council
veto Friday when it nixed a resolution calling Israeli settlements “illegal” and
demanding they be immediately halted.
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The 14 other current members of the
Security Council, including Britain, Germany and France, all backed the measure,
submitted by Lebanon on behalf of the Palestinians after intensive American
diplomacy failed to keep it from being considered.
In explaining the
veto, US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice said: “Unfortunately, this draft
resolution risks hardening the positions of both sides. It could encourage the
parties to stay out of negotiations and, if and when they did resume, to return
to the Security Council whenever they reach an impasse.”
was echoed by Israel’s temporary UN Ambassador Meron Reuben, who declared that
the measure “should never have been submitted,” and warned that that it was
“likely to harm” efforts to restart direct peace talks.
UN observer, Riyad Mansour, agreed that the veto set back negotiations, but put
the blame squarely on Israel.
“We fear,” he said, “that the message sent
today may be one that only encourages further Israeli intransigence and
Though the US was unwilling to sanction the language of the
resolution, which Rice termed “one-sided,” Rice did note that America should in
no way be seen as supportive of settlement activity.
“We reject in the
strongest terms the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity,” she
told the UN body after casting her vote.
“Continued settlement activity
violates Israel’s international commitments, devastates trust between the
parties, and threatens the prospects for peace.”
However, in a conference
call with reporters following the vote, Rice noted that US policy since 1980 had
been not to term settlements “illegal.”
The US was unwilling to sign off
on a legally binding resolution that gave such a designation, but it had offered
a compromise that still criticized settlements.
That compromise, in the
form of a presidential letter – which is not as powerful as a resolution – would
have labeled the settlements illegitimate and “a serious obstacle to the peace
process,” as well as condemned “all forms of violence, including rocket fire
from Gaza,” among other components.
The US pushed the Palestinians to
accept the compromise language in a 50-minute phone conversation US President
Barack Obama had with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas Thursday,
and a separate call from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
The vote comes amidst a stalemate in the peace process after
talks broke down in September over the issue of continued settlement
construction, as well as at a time of sensitivity toward the role of the United
States in the region following the ouster of long-time US ally Hosni Mubarak
from the Egyptian presidency.
Asked about the potential for the veto of
the resolution, heavily backed by Arab states and garnering more than 100
co-sponsoring countries, to hurt America’s image in the Middle East, Rice said
continued US support for a twostate solution remained the most important
“We fully understand the sensitive and even emotional nature
of the conflict for people in the region as well as the issue of settlements,”
she said. “But we are going to remain focused on the goal that is shared
throughout the region and is a core objective of the United States – which is
achieving an independent sovereign state of Palestine living side by side in
peace and security with Israel.”
Soon after the vote Friday afternoon,
several members of Congress released statements welcoming the veto, which
followed letters and other messages they had sent urging the Obama
administration to torpedo the resolution.
Republican and Democratic House
leaders took a rare bipartisan stand of unity praising the administration for
“Moving forward, we must continue to make it clear that peace
cannot be imposed; it must be negotiated directly between Israelis and
Palestinians,” said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Democratic Whip Steny
Hoyer in a statement released after the vote. “It is high time that the
Palestinians return to the negotiating table, rather than skirt the peace
process by bringing biased, unproductive resolutions to the United
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chair of the House Foreign Affairs
Committee, also lauded the decision, but took issue with the Obama
administration for considering backing a presidential statement that would have
reprimanded Israel over settlements and not clearly stating in the days leading
up to the vote that it would veto the resolution.
display of angst and its hesitation to use its veto is a major victory for those
extremist elements who relish in demonizing Israel,” she said in a statement.
“And for the administration to go as far as calling the choice to veto
regrettable is simply shameful.”
Many pro-Israel entities also welcomed
the administration’s decision, including the American Israel Public Affairs
“AIPAC expresses our appreciation that the Obama
administration utilized its veto to prevent another onesided, anti-Israel
resolution from being enacted by the UN Security Council,” the group said.
“AIPAC shares the administration’s dedication to reaching a two-state solution
between Israel and the Palestinian Authority through bilateral
But not all Jewish organizations supported the
Ahead of the vote, both Americans for Peace Now and J Street
expressed reservations about vetoing a resolution which was consistent with US
policy critical of the settlements.The Associated Press contributed to