Defying the US, PA pushes for UN anti-settlement vote

Abbas calls emergency meeting with PLO, Fatah; Obama says US will veto resolution so as not to jeopardize efforts to resume peace talks.

Abbas speaks Obama looks on (photo credit: Associated Press)
Abbas speaks Obama looks on
(photo credit: Associated Press)
The US and the Palestinian Authority appeared to be on a collision course Thursday evening regarding PA insistence – over US objections – on bringing a resolution condemning the settlements to the UN Security Council for a vote on Friday.
Following a lengthy phone call between US President Barack Obama and PA President Mahmoud Abbas, the PA leader called an emergency meeting of the PLO and Fatah leaderships in Ramallah for Friday, Abbas’s spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudaineh, announced.
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Sources in Ramallah said the phone conversation had dealt with the PA’s plan to seek a Security Council resolution condemning construction in the settlements.
Abbas rejected Washington’s demand not to take the matter to a vote in the council, they said.
Obama made it clear to Abbas that the US would veto such a resolution, so as not to jeopardize efforts to resume peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, the sources said.
A week ago, US Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that the Security Council was not the right place to address these issues.
Israeli officials have said in recent days that a move now in the Security Council would only further poison the atmosphere and make a return to negotiations even more difficult. The sources said that such a resolution was unlikely to have any impact on Israeli policy regarding construction in the settlements, which in any event has slowed down.
New White House spokesman Jay Carney, when asked about the matter at the daily White House press briefing, said Thursday he would not speculate on whether the US would use its veto, and added that no resolution had been put forward for a vote.
Carney reiterated that the Obama administration, “like every administration for decades,” did not “accept the legitimacy of continued settlement activity,” and viewed the settlements’ expansion as “corrosive not only to peace efforts and a two-state solution, which we strongly support, but to Israel’s future itself.”
He stopped short, however, of labeling them “illegal.” He said the US believed “direct negotiations are the only path through which the parties will ultimately reach an agreement.”
A blog on the UN on Foreign Policy magazine’s website reported Thursday that the PA and Lebanon – the only Arab state currently on the Security Council – had turned down a US offer to support a Security Council presidential statement saying that the 15-nation body “does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity,” if the proposed resolution – which is more weighty and significant than a statement by the council’s president – were withdrawn.
In addition, according to the Turtle Bay blog, the US would also have supported a Russian initiative to support a Security Council visit to the region, the first such visit since 1979, and pledge to support stronger anti-settlement language in a future Quartet statement.
The blog said the US-backed draft statement – first reported by Al-Hurra – read that the Security Council “expresses its strong opposition to any unilateral actions by any party, which cannot prejudge the outcome of negotiations and will not be recognized by the international community, and reaffirms that it does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity, which is a serious obstacle to the peace process.”
The statement also condemned “all forms of violence, including rocket fire from Gaza,” and stressed “the need for calm and security for both peoples.”
Nabil Sha'ath, a member of the PA negotiating delegation, said on Thursday that the Palestinian leadership was determined to pursue its efforts to obtain a resolution condemning the construction in the settlements despite heavy pressure from the US.
One Israeli official said it was likely that the PA’s motivation in pressing forward with a Security Council resolution, rather than sufficing with a presidential statement, was motivated in part by Arab leaders’ interest in diverting attention from the unrest in the region back onto the settlements.
Sha'ath said the PA would pursue its efforts to seek condemnation of Israel even if the US vetoed the resolution in the Security Council.
The PA would go to the Quartet and other international forums, including the International Court of Justice in The Hague, to force Israel to stop settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, he said.
“The US will lose a lot if it uses the veto to kill the resolution that is supposed to be presented to the Security Council on Friday,” Sha'ath cautioned. “The US is currently facing a test to prove its fairness and its objective role as the sponsor of the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. We hope that the US would refrain from using the veto.”
In 1979, the US did not use its veto against UN Security Council Resolution 446, which created a commission to study the impact of the settlements and which determined “that the policy and practices of Israel in establishing settlements in the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967 have no legal validity and constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East.”
Jordan, which spearheaded the resolution at the time, toned down the wording of the original draft, which called for sanctions, to deflect a possible US veto. The US, along with Britain and Norway, abstained in that vote, which passed 12-0.
Although on Thursday night the situation remained fluid, with one Israeli official saying the issue was “still in play,” a source in the Secretary- General’s Office told The Jerusalem Post it seemed like “a real possibility” that the resolution would come up for a vote on Friday.
Obama, meanwhile, was coming under pressure from both Democratic and Republican members of Congress to stand with Israel on this matter.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, issued a statement saying that support for an anti- Israel statement in the Security Council was “a major concession to enemies of the Jewish state and other free democracies. It telegraphs that the US can be bullied into abandoning critical democratic allies and core US principles.
“Offering to criticize our closest ally at the UN isn’t leadership, it’s unacceptable. Pretending that criticism of Israel is OK if it comes in a ‘Presidential Statement’ instead of a resolution isn’t leadership, it’s unacceptable. Twisting and turning and tying yourself in knots to avoid using our veto to defend our allies and interests isn’t leadership, it’s unacceptable,” she declared.
New York Congresswoman Nita Lowey, the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee, issued a statement saying that “compromising our support for Israel at the United Nations is not an option. The United States must veto the UN resolution on settlements to make clear we will not support such a blatant attempt to derail the peace process.”
Similar statements were made by Rep. Anthony Weiner, a New York Democrat; Shelley Berkley, a Nevada Democrat; and Steve Rothman, a New Jersey Democrat.
Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, widely considered a likely candidate for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, also issued a statement, perhaps indicating how Israel may become a hot-button issue in the next election. The Obama administration, he said, “has shown an astonishing unwillingness to stand by Israel at the United Nations, an organization with a long history of blaming Israel for just about every problem in the Middle East. It’s time for our UN ambassador to finally show some leadership, draw a line in the sand, and defend our historic ally.”