NEW YORK - The United Nations Security Council voted on Friday to adopt a resolution condemning Israeli settlement activity as illegal, and demanding that Israel "immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the 'occupied' Palestinian territory, including east Jerusalem".
Fourteen out of the 15 voting members of the Council voted in favor of the resolution, none voted against it, and the United States chose to abstain instead of casting its veto on the initiative.
The vote was originally scheduled to take place on Thursday, but in a dramatic turn of events, Egypt, which had introduced the draft resolution, withdrew it just hours before it was due to be considered at the Security Council, as President-elect Donald Trump came out squarely against it, saying the resolution “should be vetoed” .
“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. This puts Israel in a very poor negotiating position, and is extremely unfair to all Israelis,” Trump said in a statement.
For several months, as the possibility of an anti-settlement resolution was being discussed, the question remained whether or not President Barack Obama – an ardent opponent of the settlements – will use the US veto in the Security Council to shield Israel from it. In the days before the vote, there was a sense in Jerusalem that he would not do so.
That sense was broadcast by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who tweeted on Thursday that “the US should veto the anti-Israel resolution,” and issued an even sharper statement again just before the Egyptians announced that they were pulling back the resolution.
“Israelis deeply appreciate one of the great pillars of the US-Israel alliance: the willingness over many years for the US to stand up in the UN and veto anti-Israel resolutions,” he said. “I hope the US won’t abandon this policy; I hope it will abide by the principles set by President Obama himself in his speech in the UN in 2011: that peace will come not through UN resolutions, but only through direct negotiations between the parties.”
In her speech to the Council following the vote, US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power justified the US decision by explaining that it is in line with the bipartisan US views regarding the settlements for decades.
However, she explained the US isn’t supporting the text because it focuses “too narrowly” on settlements, maintaining that if every single settlement dismantled, it would still not guarantee peace.
Power also spoke of Benjamin Netanyahu’s statements in favor of the settlements, but also of the two state solution saying they are “irreconcilable”.
“One has to make a choice between settlements and separation,” she said.
However, she said, Friday’s vote was “not straightforward” for the US because of its venue, the United Nations.
“For as long as Israel has been a member of UN, it has been treated differently,” she told the Council.
Israel's Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon responded harshly to the American decision and stated that “neither the Security Council nor UNESCO can sever the tie between the people of Israel and the land of Israel.”
"It was to be expected that Israel's greatest ally would act in accordance with the values that we share and that they would have vetoed this disgraceful resolution,” he said. “I have no doubt that the new US administration and the incoming UN Secretary General will usher in a new era in terms of the UN's relationship with Israel." During his speech to the Security Council, Danon pointed fingers at the member states.
“This is a dark day for this Council,” he said. “The resolution you just voted on is the peak of hypocrisy. While thousands are being massacred in Syria, this Council wasted valuable time and efforts, condemning the democratic State of Israel for building homes in the historic homeland of the Jewish people.”
“By voting yes in favor of this resolution, you have in fact voted no,” he continued. “you voted no to negotiations, you voted no to progress and a chance for better lives for Israelis and Palestinians, and you voted no to the possibility of peace.”
Danon also called on the Council to “take this opportunity to turn a new page, put an end to the bias and obsession with Israel, stop this endless attempt to blame all the problems of the Middle East, on the one true democracy in the region.”
Following Friday’s outcome, many Jewish Organizations from across the political spectrum, who had strongly pushed and advocated for the US to veto the resolution, also expressed their disappointment that the US chose to abstain.
The Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish organizations said it deeply regrets and rejects the US move.
“There is no justification or explanation that validates the United States failure to veto the one-sided, offensive resolution adopted by the Security Council today,” the organization wrote. “The United States vote will be seen as a betrayal of the fundamentals of the special relationship that will nevertheless continue to mark the close ties between the peoples of the two countries.”
The American Jewish Council CEO David Harris too said he is “deeply disappointed that the United States chose to abstain on a UN Security Council resolution today which singled out Israel for condemnation.”
“The Administration’s decision, for the first time in eight years, not to block an anti-Israel measure at the UN Security Council is profoundly disturbing,” he said. “It only encourages diplomatic end-runs and diversionary tactics, which hinder rather than advance the prospects for peace.”
“Moreover, this measure repeats the Palestinian falsehood that Israeli settlements constitute the core of the conflict,” Harris added. “Let’s be clear: The chief obstacle to achieving peace is, and long has been, the steadfast refusal of the Palestinian leadership to recognize Israel’s legitimacy and negotiate in earnest a comprehensive agreement. Security Council members that supported the resolution are not helping the cause of peace by their failure to hold the Palestinians accountable for their chronic short-sightedness and inaction.”
Herb Keinon and Reuters contributed to this report.