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Israel & Egypt Isolated as US Declines to Block

The Obama administration, breaking from longstanding U.S. policy, abstained from voting on a United Nations Security Council resolution harshly criticising Israel's expansion of settlements, allowing the historic measure to pass.

December 23

0:00
2016

London , United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland - 23 Dec 2016 - Washington Post

The Obama administration, breaking from longstanding U.S. policy, abstained from voting on a United Nations Security Council resolution harshly criticizing Israel’s expansion of settlements, allowing the historic measure to pass. In abstaining, the US left Egypt isolated having sucumb to pressure from President elect Trump to delay the vote.

It was the first time in 36 years the Security Council was able to adopt a resolution addressing the issue of Israeli settlement construction, diplomats said. President Barack Obama and many other international officials have said such construction poses an obstacle to the Middle East peace process.

President-elect Donald Trump, however, has defended Israel against criticism for the settlement expansion, and took the unusual step this week of immersing himself into the debate by opposing the Security Council resolution in a Twitter post and holding talks with top Egyptian and Israel officials in a bid to thwart the measure’s passage.

The measure was approved with 14 members voting in favor and the U.S. abstaining.

Security Council passage represents a turning point in U.S. policy in the Middle East, but possibly a short-lived one. On more than 40 occasions in recent decades, the U.S. has exercised its power as a permanent member of the Security Council to veto resolutions critical of its ally Israel, in line with policies under successive presidential administrations of shielding Israel from international criticism.

As the U.S. prepared to reverse its longstanding posture at the U.N., Ambassador Samantha Power told the Security Council that the resolution reflected long-running complaints in Washington about Israeli settlement construction and was in accord with objectives to remove obstacles to a two-state solution allowing for Israeli and Palestinian homelands.

“Our vote today is fully in line with the bipartisan history of how American presidents have approached both the issue and the role of this body,” she said.

Israel decried the move, saying it had expected the U.S. to veto the measure and looking forward to closer ties with the incoming Trump administration.

“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,” said Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the U.

N. “I have no doubt that the new U.S. administration and the incoming U.N. secretary-general will usher in a new era in terms of the U.N.’s relationship with Israel.”

In Israel, the U.S. decision to abstain and allow passage was met with widespread disapproval.

“There is wall-to-wall agreement within Israeli society that this is a dangerous and harmful step and won’t promote peace in any way,” said Yair Lapid, the head of the opposition Yesh Atid party. “A decision like this will provide a tailwind for terror and violence, it won’t advance negotiations.”

Some of Mr. Obama’s domestic critics said the move called into question the usefulness of U.S. funding for the world body. “The United States provides considerable financial assistance to the United Nations and Security Council members,” said Sen. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.). “The U.N. and nations supporting this resolution have now imperiled all forms of U.S. assistance.”

The U.S. Jewish organization J Street applauded the move, saying the resolution advances the goal of a two-state solution, also a longtime U.S. objective.

“This resolution conveys the overwhelming support of the international community, including Israel’s closest friends and allies, for the two-state solution, and their deep concern over the deteriorating status quo between Israelis and Palestinians and the lack of meaningful progress toward peace,” the organization said. 

Ms. Power said the resolution reflected “facts on the ground” and backed policy under multiple U.S. administrations holding that settlements were illegal. 

“The U.S. has been sending message that settlements must stop publicly and privately for five decades,” Ms. Power said. 

The resolution said that Israel’s settlements in the Palestinian territories are illegal and in violation of international law and an obstacle to a two-state solution. The resolution would demand that Israel cease expansion of settlements, including in East Jerusalem. It also calls on both parties to refrain from inciting provocative actions and inflammatory rhetoric.

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